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Privileges Committee Special Report

Volume 736: debated on Monday 10 July 2023

I beg to move,

That this House,

(a) notes with approval the Special Report from the Committee of Privileges;

(b) considers that where the House has agreed to refer a matter relating to individual conduct to the Committee of Privileges, Members of this House should not impugn the integrity of that Committee or its members or attempt to lobby or intimidate those members or to encourage others to do so, since such behaviour undermines the proceedings of the House and is itself capable of being a contempt; and

(c) considers it expedient that the House of Lords is made aware of the Special Report and this Resolution, so that that House can take such action as it deems appropriate.

In accordance with the convention on matters of privilege, as Leader of the House, I have brought forward this motion to facilitate the House’s consideration of the first special report of the Privileges Committee, published on 29 June 2023. The motion notes with approval the Committee’s special report, and seeks to reaffirm essential principles underpinning the protection of parliamentary privilege and the functioning of this House and its Committees, making it explicit that the House considers that those protections are fundamental to investigations of the Privileges Committee.

Paragraph (c) draws to the attention of the House of Lords the issues raised in the report through a formal message. The House may wish to know that the Leader of the House of Lords has written to me to emphasise that these are serious and important matters, while recognising that each House is responsible for the organisation of its own affairs. The report has been placed in the Lords Library, and I know that my noble Friend Lord True is continuing conversations with others in that House on this important matter.

In my speech on 19 June, I took some time to explain the role of the Privileges Committee and why it matters to all of us here and to our constituents that it exists and that it has people who are prepared to serve on it. In that debate, we also heard some of the things that members of the Committee had to endure while they carried out the duties this House had required of them. I shall not repeat those points, but I wish to make two further points: first, a pre-emptive strike on an issue that may arise during today’s debate and, secondly, a personal reflection.

Undermining a Committee should not be confused with the expression of legitimate concerns about the work or its processes. Members must be free to raise such concerns and there are appropriate ways of doing so. Indeed, the Committee’s report highlights the various ways this can be done, in particular citing the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who raised matters before, during and after the Committee’s original inquiry in a perfectly proper way. If an hon. Member has concerns about any matter of privilege and the internal affairs of this House and its Committees, they may write to the Speaker, who may afford the issue precedence for consideration. Those are the appropriate channels for raising such issues and it is every Member’s right to do so.

I would like to highlight that this an exceptional situation. It is not the usual cut and thrust of politics. A special report of the Privileges Committee regarding interference in its work is entirely unprecedented and that has led me to consider the reasons why. Is it perhaps because the nature of politics has changed so much, or because the obligations we have towards one another, and to this place and the esteem in which we hope it is held, are less clear? Perhaps it is because we feel little responsibility towards other right hon. and hon. Members, even those in our own party, and still less for what our words and deeds may encourage others to do outside this place. Is it that personal honour matters less, or good manners? I hope not.

I hope that the colleagues named will reflect on their actions. One of the most painful aspects of this whole affair is that it has involved animosities between colleagues of the same political view, but I know of at least one Member named in the report who has taken the time to speak with regret to some other members of the Committee, and I applaud them for doing so. I hope that some speakers today will acknowledge that obligation we have to one another as colleagues. If Castlereagh and Canning could adopt polite civility after fighting a duel, I live in hope that today will be the end of this sorry affair.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Lady.

Over the past few years, the Conservative party has dragged the reputation of this House through the mud and left it festering in the gutter. When the Privileges Committee published its report three weeks ago, which found that Mr Johnson lied to this House and the people of this country, many people must have thought that standards in public life had hit rock bottom—that they could not get any lower. However, the shameful actions of senior Tory MPs, spelled out in the report we are debating today, have damaged the public’s trust in Parliament further still.

Some MPs, I am afraid to say, attacked the personal character and integrity of individual members of the Committee from the comfort of their own bully pulpit TV shows. Some accused the Committee of not following due process and did everything they could to whip up an atmosphere of distrust, throwing their toys out of the pram as if it were one rule for them and their friend, and another for everyone else. They were quite wrong. While their attempts to undermine and attack Britain’s democratic institutions are shocking, it is important that we remember that they were not successful: this House did vote to approve the Committee’s report into Mr Johnson in full and sanction him appropriately. Just like their friend who they were trying to get off the hook, unfortunately, the named MPs are having to be held accountable today for their actions.

I share the desire of the Leader of the House for those Members to use today’s debate to set a line and show that they have recognised what they have done, so that we can move on. That matters because we have to approve the report in full. As it says,

“our democracy depends on MPs being able to trust that what Ministers say in the House of Commons is the truth. If Ministers cannot be trusted to tell the truth, the House cannot do its job and the confidence of the public in our whole political system is undermined.”

In other words, telling the truth is the foundation of a functioning Parliament and, when there are allegations that a Minister has not told the truth, we simply must have a mechanism for investigating them. If we did not, there would be no way to hold them to account. That is the role of the Privileges Committee. The motion we are debating today protects the Committee and allows its members to continue to do their job on our behalf when we instruct them to do so. It ensures that they can carry out their work, so that we and the people of this country can trust what Ministers say. This is about protecting democracy.

The motion puts into effect the report’s recommendation, aiming to stop MPs putting improper pressure on the Committee and its members in future, because improper pressure was put on the Committee during the inquiry into Mr Johnson. That was an exceptionally important piece of work that went right to the heart of the public’s trust in politicians. This report now makes it clear that, to varying degrees—examples are listed clearly in the annex to the report—the named Tory MPs attempted to discredit the Committee and its conclusions, in some cases before they had even seen them, and even pushed for resignations. That ultimately amounted to a co-ordinated campaign by Mr Johnson’s allies to influence the outcome of the inquiry in favour of their friend.

I said that it amounted to a co-ordinated campaign, and it did. Every single one of those examples adds up, encouraging others—members of the public and other politicians—to take part. As I have mentioned, that was made worse by the fact that two of those mentioned as mounting the most vociferous attacks did so from the platform of their own TV shows. The named MPs accused the Committee of being a “kangaroo court” and the process of being a “witch hunt”. In reality, as they must know, that could not be further from the truth. The Committee detailed its processes in advance. It took every possible step to ensure fairness. It took legal advice from the right hon. Sir Ernest Ryder, from Speaker’s Counsel and from the Clerks of the House on how to

“apply the general principles of fairness, the rules of the House, and…procedural precedents”.

On the basis of fairness, does the hon. Lady believe it is fair that Members of this House were investigated and listed in a report without prior knowledge that that was going to happen?

The Committee was open to the Members concerned making their representations to the Committee in the proper way, and they did not do so. The Committee published a report last summer setting out its intended processes, and Members could have taken part in a number of ways, which I will detail. It made further public comments on its workings when appropriate, and gave Mr Johnson further time to respond to the evidence and make his own submission. In short, the Committee did everything it possibly could to ensure fairness and transparency.

Does my hon. Friend agree that when the Privileges Committee is meeting, it cannot engage in answering allegations about what it is doing in the press, but has to continue its work until it is completed, and that the rules of the House require that other people should refrain from commenting on it or calling it into disrepute until the actual document is printed and the report has been laid before the House?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. A cursory glance at the Standing Orders of this place would have informed those Members of that.

I do want to take a small moment to put again on record my thanks to the members of the Committee, from all sides of the House, who worked so hard to come to a unanimous conclusion, and to the Clerks who, under considerable pressure, continue to work to uphold the integrity of this House and its standards system.

In my view, the named MPs should apologise. Unfortunately, some of them so far have instead doubled down, claiming that what they have said is merely their exercising their right to freedom of speech. That is absolute nonsense. They tried to interfere in a disciplinary procedure that was voted for unanimously by this House; nobody voted against it. If those Members had wanted to, as the report sets out, there were other legitimate ways open to them as MPs who want to influence any Privileges Committee inquiry. I will refresh their memories: they could have had their say on the MPs appointed to the Committee: they could have opposed the motion instructing the Committee to look into this in the first place; and they could have submitted evidence. There were any number of legitimate avenues open to them, but instead of properly engaging, they pursued illegitimate ways.

I am afraid this all comes back to integrity in politics. Last month, when the Committee published its report into Mr Johnson, the current Prime Minister also had an opportunity to draw a line between him and his predecessor. He could have shown some leadership, he could have pressed the reset button and he could have lived up to his promise of integrity, professionalism and accountability, but, mired in splits and division in his own party, he was too weak to stand up to his former boss.

Does the hon. Lady not think that, in a debate on privileges, perhaps now is not the time to enter into cheap party politics?

I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that we are all bound by the same code of conduct, and that includes the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister found time last week to comment on cricket, but could not even find time to comment on the lies of his predecessor—I am responding to the hon. Gentleman—or to the Committee. He could have shown some leadership, but as well as not voting, he could not even bring himself to give us a view.

At the Liaison Committee last week, the Prime Minister said that he had not even read the report. It is not long, and it is about his own MPs. Has he read the report now? Does he understand why this matters so much, and if so, does the Leader of the House know if we will get to hear what he thinks of today’s motion? Does he accept the Committee’s conclusions? Will he be voting to approve the report in full? He is the Prime Minister, and this matters because it was a predecessor Prime Minister of his who has brought us to this point by lying to this House. If we want to turn the corner, if we want to move on and if those Conservative Members shaking their heads really want to turn the corner, it matters that the current Prime Minister has failed even to draw a difference between himself and his predecessor.

I feel the hon. Lady did not fully give an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici). How would the hon. Lady feel if, on a Monday, she had a letter from a court saying she had been found guilty, after a court hearing on the Friday, when she had no prior knowledge of it, no summons and no opportunity to give her evidence? Does that feel like natural justice? After all, this is nothing to do with Boris Johnson. That is so last week; this is today.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention because it gives me the opportunity to remind the entire House that this is not a court. It is a procedural Committee that was assessing evidence that was publicly available. We are talking about tweets and TV shows, none of which was hidden.

The Prime Minister also claimed that Lord Goldsmith had quit as a Minister after refusing to apologise for his actions. Lord Goldsmith said that was not true, so which is it? Did the Prime Minister ask him to apologise? More importantly for today’s debate, has he asked his own named MPs to apologise, and if not, why not? Will he do so, and has the right hon. Lady, as the Leader of the House, spoken to her colleagues about this?

I end by reiterating that the Privileges Committee is a key piece of Britain’s democratic jigsaw. We must not allow the Committee to be caught up in a Tory psychodrama; its work is far too important for that. All credit to all the MPs on that Committee for putting their allegiances to one side and being able to do the work. Labour respects the Committee. We respect the rules and processes of this House. We know that without them, our democracy fractures. I stand ready to vote for the motion today and to approve the report in full, and I urge colleagues in all parts of the House to do the same.

Paragraph 19 of the report reads:

“We consider that the House should maintain its protection of inquiries into individual conduct referred to the Committee of Privileges in the same way that it does those being considered by the House’s own Committee on Standards and Independent Expert Panel.”

I agree with that.

The motion before us is as recommended in paragraph 20, which was read out by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and referred to obliquely by the spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire)—I preferred my right hon. Friend’s approach to the issue.

Paragraph 8 lists the ways that

“MPs have control and legitimate means of influence over any Privileges Committee inquiry. They have the right: to object to and vote on Members appointed to the Committee, and subsequently to raise any alleged conflicts of interest on points of order; to vote against the motion of referral or to seek to amend the motion; to make comments on the Committee’s procedure to the Committee itself; to submit evidence to the Committee; and to debate, vote and comment publicly on the Committee’s final report once it is published and the investigation is completed.”

That paragraph seems pretty comprehensive. I think the report is acceptable, and if the motion comes to a vote, I will support it.

Briefly, I commend the motion on this serious matter, the wording of which was put forward by the Committee of Privileges. As the special report sets out, the Committee is

“in practice the only mechanism…which the House can use to defend itself in the face of a Minister misleading it.”

Unfortunately, throughout the inquiry into Boris Johnson, the former Prime Minister and several of his close allies sought to discredit the Committee, the integrity of its members and the parliamentary process. Their actions did not affect the outcome of the inquiry—thank goodness—but that should not absolve those individuals of responsibility or scrutiny.

Senior politicians—one of them a Minister at the time, and others of them former Front Benchers—applied “unprecedented and co-ordinated pressure” on the Committee, as the report makes clear, and waged what can only be described as a campaign to disparage it. They took to Twitter, newspapers, radio and even their own TV shows to make their claims, and referred to the inquiry as a “witch hunt” and a “kangaroo court” not befitting a “banana republic”. Those are among the jaw-dropping comments listed in the annex to the report. Conservative Members might need to read the annex, because they do not seem familiar with some of those comments.

It is customary for the Privileges Committee to be chaired by a member of the Opposition, yet there were sustained efforts to undermine and question the impartiality of the Chair, who was appointed to the Committee by unanimous decision of the House. The pressure exerted on Conservative Committee members, who made up a majority of the Committee, was clearly intended to force their withdrawal or impede the conclusion of the inquiry.

The hon. Lady said it was customary for the Privileges Committee to be chaired by a member of the Opposition; actually, under Standing Orders, it has to be chaired by a member of the Opposition.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that clarification. I agree with her; she is quite right. The report also emphasises the significant personal impact that the campaign had on Members who were simply trying to perform their duties. They should not have been subject to such treatment.

It has hitherto been understood that Members should refrain from interfering in the work of the Privileges Committee, but that was ignored. Explicit protections are already in place for House of Commons standards cases involving alleged breaches of the code of conduct for MPs. When it comes to those cases, Members are prohibited from lobbying the Committee on Standards, the Independent Expert Panel or the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. It seems evident from this episode that those safeguards should also be applied to privileges cases.

The claims that the changes would restrict Members’ free speech are misguided. Members already have the right to object, to vote and to raise conflicts of interest regarding Committee appointments, as well as to vote against or amend referral motions, to provide evidence, to comment on procedure and to publicly discuss the final report after its publication.

On the issue of being able to comment, can the hon. Lady define for me what “impugn the integrity” means for what people can say?

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will repeat the question. The hon. Lady was talking about the ability to comment, and one of the report’s key recommendations is that Members should not

“impugn the integrity of that Committee”.

Can she define for me what constitutes impugning integrity?

For goodness’ sake, that is a ridiculous question. It is clear from the annex attached to this report what impugning the integrity of the Committee means and what it does not. The comments in the report were jaw-dropping. I was shocked that anybody could make such claims when the Committee was in the process of its inquiry.

Getting on to that very point, there are appropriate channels to make our views heard during investigations, and the thing is—Members on the Government Benches do not appear to appreciate this—that this whole saga has further undermined the public’s faith and trust in not just this place, but in democracy itself. It can only fuel the existing sense of cynicism and frustration that we see across society in the UK today.

Boris Johnson was shown to have lied to the House and to the Privileges Committee, yet some of his most ardent supporters sought to interfere, undermine and attack the integrity of the Committee and its work. It seems appropriate, as I said, to consider whether such campaigns should result in disciplinary action. It is no wonder the public are scunnered with it. This whole saga has undermined people’s faith in this place and in democracy itself. The Prime Minister and most of his Cabinet were not here for the vote on the Committee’s findings on Johnson, and the Government Front Bench is sadly looking pretty empty again today. As one of my constituents put it to me in a surgery just days ago, “If those at the very top won’t bother observing or even showing their support for the rules, why should we?”. That leads us to a dangerous place indeed. We support the motion.

There are some issues with this report, beginning, as it happens, with its title referring to a “Co-ordinated campaign of interference”. As was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), there is no evidence that it was co-ordinated. Speaking on my own account—I may get support on this from the Whip on duty and, indeed, the 10 Downing Street press office, were it able to comment—I am not often co-ordinated with the official line to take. Indeed, I have always thought it politically important that Members should be independent in what they say and how they vote. Therefore, to make an assertion of co-ordination without evidence is a problem with this report, but it is not the only problem.

I question footnote 1 on the bona fides of this report. It states:

“The Committee of Privileges is not able to initiate inquiries on its own initiative, but once matters are referred to the House it has ‘power to inquire not only into the matter of the particular complaint, but also into facts surrounding and reasonably connected with the matter of the particular complaint, and into the principles of the law and custom of privilege that are concerned’ (CJ (1947-48) 22, 30 October 1947).”

However, that is surely superseded by the vote in 1978 on how privilege matters should be dealt with. Paragraph 15.32 of “Erskine May” sets out the procedure and explains why it is as complex as it is. It states:

“The procedure is designed to prevent frivolous complaints of breach of privilege. The following safeguards are in place: the Committee of Privileges does not have power to inquire at will, but can only deal with complaints which are referred to it; decisions as to whether to refer a matter of privilege to the Committee of Privileges are taken by the House as a whole; and Members require the permission of the Speaker to raise a matter of privilege.”

That was not done, and the 1947 Commons Journal entry was preferred to the 1978 motion. That seems to me to have been a mistake. That is not to say that this is necessarily not a serious matter, but the whole reason for the procedures is to ensure that only serious matters are subject to these reports. Why did the Committee not follow the procedure properly set out by the House in 1978? Why were the safeguards ignored?

That is before we come to the matter raised by others about individuals being named and referred to without any ability to answer. I am not too worried about that. I have said things on the public record, and if people want to quote me and wish to refer to my television programme on GB News, which they may be jealous of, or whatever other concerns they may have, that is absolutely fine. I do not mind that personally, but I do mind that people say they are following the procedures of the House when the procedures seem to be rather different in “Erskine May”.

There is also a modest discourtesy to the House of Lords. The House of Lords has exclusive cognisance, and implied criticisms of peers are against the practice of this House, and that is unfortunate. That is unfortunate more from our point of view than from theirs. Why do we have this idea of exclusive cognisance so clearly in mind? It is because in the days of the Supreme Court being the House of Lords, ultimately membership of this House would have been determined by the other House. We have therefore always jealously guarded our right of exclusive cognisance, but, in return, we have given it to their lordships. I am concerned that the report has touched and trespassed on that.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has referred to the Privileges Committee—it notes this in the report—as a kangaroo court. He said:

“I think it makes kangaroo courts look respectable.”

He also referred to the members of the Privileges Committee during its hearings as “marsupials”. On reflection, might he like to apologise for that use of language?

The hon. Lady kindly leads me to what I was going to say next. I had absolutely no desire to impugn the integrity of individual members of the Committee, some of whom I hold in very high regard.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, or will he at least acknowledge, that comments made by Members named in the special report raised the risk significantly of harm to members of the Privileges Committee, to the extent that the Parliamentary Security Department felt it necessary to carry out an urgent review of their personal safety, constituency offices, constituency events and homes?

Many Members of this House have faced issues with security. I do not believe that criticising the actions of a Committee has that effect. If the hon. Gentleman really takes that route, we will have to agree with each other the whole time. Admirable though I thought the Leader of the House’s request was that we should get on better, I am afraid that was knocked for six by the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), in her rather cantankerous comments that followed.

I want to make it clear that I had no intention to impugn the individual members of the Committee. I do indeed hold many of them in the highest regard. I served on the House of Commons Commission with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) and on the Privileges Committee, under his chairmanship, with the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue). I have always thought it is important to get on well with people across the House and to be courteous to them, as the Lord President of the Council suggested, but that does not mean that one cannot criticise them. It was legitimate and it is legitimate to question the position of the Chairman of the Committee. We must be clear about that.

In the previous debate, I quoted at some length the House of Lords setting aside the Lord Hoffmann judgment because of his association with Amnesty International. That made it very clear that the question was the risk of the appearance of partiality. It did not question Lord Hoffmann as a man of honour and integrity, and I certainly do not question the honour and integrity of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who is a most distinguished Member of this House, but I do not think that she was wise to serve as Chairman of a Committee when she had tweeted her views. We have just heard from the shadow Leader of the House how shocking it is to tweet anything, but it is all right for someone to tweet something when it prejudges a case they are about to hear. That seems to make no sense.

I question the report further. As the Father of the House noted, paragraph 8 sets out how we may question the Committee. However, footnote 10 in paragraph 15 seems to object that I did exactly that in the debate that followed the Committee’s report. The previous Prime Minister used to get accused of cakeism, but that seems to be an extreme level of cakeism. The position of the Chairman was fundamental. As it says in Galatians,

“A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”

I am listening with interest, although at times the precision could be greater. The Privileges Committee matter mentioned in the footnote referred to Mr Johnson being referred to the Committee rather than this report, which followed subsequent events. I also read footnote 10 on page six, to which my right hon. Friend refers, as explaining the answer to the question he raised over Hoffman, not supporting what he said about Hoffman. Was I wrong?

I was pointing out that, from a reading of paragraph 15, what I said is seen as part of a sustained attempt to undermine and challenge the impartiality of the Chairman in the very debate in which, under paragraph 8, we are allowed to make criticisms once the report has been brought to the House. It is a very odd footnote at the very least, and unclear about what it is trying to achieve.

The problem with the Chairman’s position was that it undermined the whole validity of the Committee, because it is well known that if a body comes to a conclusion, with one person on it whose partiality is questionable, the whole process is then nullified and needs to start again. There is also, as we know, currently an investigation into my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), but that was not known during the course of the Committee’s deliberations. Therefore, nobody could raise that as a question of impugning his integrity until, as I understand it, the report was completed. There may have raised questions and there may have been valid questions to raise, but they were certainly not raised by me or by any others.

Let us delve into the details of the report. It bases its privilege claims on “Erskine May”, but I have a nasty feeling that the Committee read just the headline of “Erskine May” without reading the relevant footnotes and examining the Commons Journal to see what they refer to. I have done that, with considerable help from the Library and the Journal Office. Footnotes 5 and 6 of the report point to “Erskine May”, 25th edition, paragraph 15.14. That paragraph has 35 further footnotes. The House may be relieved to know that I will not go through them all, because many are irrelevant to the report.

The footnotes deal with matters such as assaulting Members en route to Parliament, which is deemed a breach a privilege—one that seems to happen most days to some, but never mind. It is a breach of privilege of great antiquity that the Committee seems unconcerned about. The footnotes deal with reflections on the Lord Chancellor or allegations of corruption—none of that applies. However, notes 4, 7, 21, 22, 26 and 27 are worth looking at. Note 4 concerns “insulting or abusive language”. The first example cited comes from 1646. We are making a claim for privilege based on a time when this House was at war. And what was it? The claim was that one Francis Godolphin—a turncoat who had been ruling on the Isles of Scilly—should not in future be criticised because he now supports the House of Commons. The House of Commons was protecting one of its own in a time of war. That is hardly the greatest precedent for Committee members not being able to withstand a little criticism today.

In 1660, there was rudeness in the Lobby—an outsider was rude to a Member in the Lobby, and Members were very shocked. In 1877, Dr Kenealy was rude to another Member in the Lobby and was forced to apologise. Likewise, in 1887, Dr Tanner was rude to another Member in the Lobby. On that occasion, the motion of censure was withdrawn. There is a clear precedent, I accept, that we are not allowed to be rude to fellow Members in the Lobby. I was very careful throughout this whole process—had I done other, there would have been grounds for complaint—not to talk to any members of the Committee about what was in front of their Committee. That, it seems to me, would have been improper and private lobbying that should not take place. I was careful, as I say, not to do that, in spite of the fact that inevitably I met one or two of the Conservative members on many occasions during this process. That seems to me to be covered in broad terms by what is set out in footnote 4.

We come now to footnote 7. Footnote 7 is why I think the Committee did not bother reading the footnotes, because—if this is not my proudest achievement in Parliament, I do not know what is—I have actually discovered a mistake in “Erskine May”. I see the Clerks at the Table almost swooning with horror at that thought. I thank the Commons Journal Office for pointing this out. The footnote quotes the 1862-63 Journal; it is in fact the 1863-64 Journal when a Mr Reed was summoned to apologise to the House for writing a rude letter to a Member of Parliament. Madam Deputy Speaker, what a pity the Privileges Committee has not got on to that! Just think how busy it would be if it looked into every rude letter sent to a Member of Parliament by a constituent. Perhaps it should have done a rolling report, with powers accrued to itself to do that. I might have one or two I could send in myself. One or two remainers write to me in the most excoriating terms, but I am afraid I have always taken that as part of the flotsam and jetsam of political life.

If we go to 1890, a Mr Atkinson was suspended for seven days for offending the Speaker, both on the Floor of the House and in correspondence. Epistolary offence was given to Mr Speaker. That is a much more serious matter—surely, Madam Deputy Speaker, you would agree with this—than it is to argue with a member of a Committee, or indeed even the Chairman of a Committee. In 1781, the wonderfully named Theophilus Swift was called to the Bar and had to apologise for causing offence, and a couple of duels were claimed by Members against Members. In 1845, Mr Somers, the Member for Sligo, challenged Mr Roebuck, the Member for Bath; and in 1862, a rude letter was sent to Sir Robert Peel by The O’Donoghue, the MP for Tipperary. These were considered to be great breaches of privilege, though only apologies were required—no further sanction. There was a challenge from Mr O’Kelly, who apologised to Mr McCoan for another duel.

A Mr France was admonished at the Bar in 1874 for being rude about the Chairman of a Committee, but in 1968-69 it was deemed that criticising the impartiality of the Chairman of a Sub-Committee was not contempt of Parliament, when it was thought the issue faced by the Chairman of the said Sub-Committee was one where he had a constituency interest and therefore could not be impartial. So I would say—it is unlike me to be such a modernist—that the more modern precedent is on the side of being able to challenge the position of a Chairman of a Committee.

In 1900, there was a letter written by a non-Member about a Select Committee on Government contracting being partial. It was deemed a breach and motions were put, but what did the House decide? The House decided not to vote in favour of the motion, or on the amendment to the motion, but that it now proceed with the business of the day. Once again the House in recent centuries, let alone decades, has become less and less prissy about this type of privilege, because it risks ridicule when it stands upon its honour in this way.

In 1901 and 1926, there were arguments with the Daily Mail—some things never change. It was suggested that the editor of the Daily Mail be brought to the Bar of the House. I believe the Bar is the gift of Jamaica. If we pull it out—which we are not meant to do, because it usually has a sign on it when the House is not sitting saying, “Please do not touch”, although I confess I have pulled it out and it is very interesting to see—it says it is the gift of Jamaica. The editor of the Daily Mail was not called in. In 1901 he said that had a Member of Parliament criticised him outside of the House in the way he had been criticised in the House, he would have sued for libel. That was deemed to be threatening, but he was not called in.

Perhaps my favourite case is from 1880. It is a very interesting case. A certain Mr Plimsoll put out a leaflet to the electors of Westminster wherein he said that Sir Charles Russell, the Member of Parliament for Westminster, had used a parliamentary tactic to stop a vote on a Bill. Some of us who come on Fridays—I am looking to catch the eye of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope)—may think that using tactical efforts to stop Bills is not such a bad thing altogether, but Mr Plimsoll took offence at it and put out a rude leaflet. This was brought to the attention of the House, and the House voted:

“That, in the opinion of this House, the conduct of the honourable Member for Derby in publishing printed placards denouncing the part taken by two honourable Members of this House in the proceedings of the House was calculated to interfere with the due discharge of the duties of a Member of this House and is a breach of its Privileges:—But this House, having regard to the withdrawal by the honourable Member for Derby of the expressions to which the honourable Member for Westminster has drawn its attention, is of opinion that no further action on its part is necessary.”—[Official Report, 20 February 1880; Vol. 250, c. 1114.]

I wonder whether hon. Members have worked out what the Bill was that Mr Plimsoll was bringing forward, for which he had to apologise to the House—a precedent quoted indirectly by this report, favourably. Mr Plimsoll was trying to get a Bill through to put the Plimsoll line on ships to save hundreds of lives, and this House criticised him for breach of privilege.

We should be very wary of standing on our dignity, because this House is the cockpit of freedom of speech. It is where democracy must run. When we try to silence people because they say things that we do not like, we risk looking ridiculous.

I thank the Leader of the House for tabling the motion, which arises out of the special report of the Privileges Committee.

When it approved with an emphatic majority the report of our inquiry into Boris Johnson, the House made it clear beyond doubt that honesty in our Parliament matters, that Ministers are required to be truthful and that there will be consequences for any Minister who is not. The House was endorsing the outcome of the Committee that it had mandated to undertake that inquiry.

The present motion asks the House to give its approval to our special report, because we want to make sure, if the House ever again mandates the Privileges Committee to undertake an inquiry into a Member, that there will be Members who are willing to serve on the Committee, and that the Committee and its processes are protected while an inquiry is under way so that the Committee is able to undertake its work in the way that the House wants. The motion makes it clear that when a Privileges Committee inquiry is ongoing, Members should not lobby, intimidate or attack the integrity of the Committee. They should not try to influence the outcome of the inquiry or undermine the standing of the Committee, because that undermines the proceedings of the House.

No Member needs to feel disempowered by this. On the contrary, Members own the entire process. Any Member can object to a Member being appointed to the Privileges Committee. Any Member can speak and vote against any reference to the Privileges Committee or the terms of any reference. Any Member can give evidence to the Committee. Any Member can debate and vote on the report of any inquiry.

This is not a process imposed on the House by the Privileges Committee. The opposite is the case: it is the House that imposes this responsibility on the Privileges Committee. It is the House that chooses the members of the Committee; it is the House that decides on an inquiry and its terms of reference; and it is the House, by its Standing Orders and precedents, that lays down the processes that will apply.

Our special report makes it clear that it is not acceptable for Members, fearing an outcome that they do not want, to level criticisms at the Committee so that in the event that the conclusion is the one that they do not want, they will have undermined the inquiry’s outcome by undermining confidence in the Committee.

As the right hon. and learned Lady knows from our exchange of letters in recent days, I was named in the annex to the report for a tweet that did not refer to the Committee. The context of the Twitter thread is clear. She talks about hon. Members being able to give evidence to the Committee, but we had no prior notification that we might be named. I was alerted to my presence in the report by the press. I just wonder how she considers that Members like me might be able to seek redress in such circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman named himself on Twitter by calling the Committee a “witch hunt”, and that was in the public domain. The thread ahead of his tweet was quite clear, so we simply put it in our report. We took what was in the public domain and put it in our report.

Our special report makes it clear that it is not acceptable for a Member of this House who does not want a particular outcome to seek, by pressure or lobbying, to influence the Committee’s decision.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I fear that the right hon. and learned Lady may have just inadvertently misled the House by suggesting that I called the Committee a “witch hunt”. There was no reference to the Committee, and the four-part Twitter thread is quite clear that it was not in relation to the Committee or its investigations. I wonder how I might seek redress on this matter.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. I do not know whether he was here at the beginning but, if he was and if he wishes to speak later, he can catch my eye. He has already made his point, and I think the right hon. and learned Member is addressing that point.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) is saying that he does not believe the Privileges Committee’s inquiry into Boris Johnson was a witch hunt, I warmly welcome the fact that he has said so. I thank him for putting it on the record that he does not believe our inquiry was a witch hunt.

Does the right hon. and learned Lady not think it would have been courteous of the Committee to warn those listed in the annex that they were going to be listed? If a mistake had been made, it would have given those people an opportunity to make their point before the Committee’s report was published. Would that not have been fairer?

The points and issues that we included in the annex to our report were put in the public domain on Twitter. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman himself put into the public domain that, in relation to the Committee, there was a question of “malice and prejudice”. He felt it was important to put that on to the public record.

Order. I have not called the hon. Gentleman to make a point of order. If the right hon. and learned Member does not want to give way, which is her right, it is detrimental to the debate if Members who cannot get their own way then make a point of order.

My point of order is that it is also discourteous to partly quote something, actually. And what it clearly—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. That is not a point of order. He is addressing it directly to the right hon. and learned Lady, not to me. No more of that, thank you.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) wants to say that he does not believe the Committee was motivated by malice and prejudice, we would warmly welcome that correction.

Our special report makes it clear that it is not acceptable for a Member of this House who does not want a particular outcome to seek, by pressure or lobbying, to influence the Committee’s decision. The House, by supporting this motion tonight, will be making it clear that, in such an inquiry, the Committee’s responsibility is to gather the evidence, and that it is the evidence that must prevail. That is the only basis on which a decision should be made. Members must not try to wreck the process by pressing Committee members to resign.

If members of the Committee are not prepared to undertake such inquiries, the House would have no protection from those who mislead it. I have nothing but admiration for my colleagues on the Privileges Committee, particularly the Conservative Members. Despite the pressure they were subjected to, they were unflinching. They came to each of our more than 30 meetings and persisted to the conclusion of the inquiry with a complete and total focus, which was a credit to the House. They gathered the evidence, analysed it and based their decision on it, exactly in the way that the House requires them to. That was then put to the House.

By supporting this motion tonight, the House will be making it clear that when it appoints members to the Committee, those members will have the support of the House to carry out their work. They are doing a worthy thing by serving on the Privileges Committee.

I appreciate what a difficult job the Committee has—I fully respect that—and, of course, the original Chair did recuse himself from the inquiry. When the original report was put before the House, the right hon. and learned Lady stated that she had received assurances from the Government that she would remain in that position, but she did not elaborate on that at the time. Will she therefore use today as an opportunity to inform the House as to what assurances she had been given and by whom?

Is the hon. Gentleman, in what he has said, withdrawing what he said on Twitter, which was that the Committee was a

“witch-hunt which would put a banana republic to shame”?

That is what he actually said.

Committee members are entitled to the support of the House, because it is the House that has asked them to undertake this work.

As a former Leader of the House, and having both spoken for and voted for the report by the Privileges Committee, which the House did commission, I am afraid that I do not accept the premise that the right hon. and learned Lady, for whom I have a great deal of time and respect, is putting forward today, which is that the Committee, as a result of being asked by the House to look into the behaviour by one of its Members, should therefore be absolutely immune from any form of free speech whatsoever. I cannot agree with her on that basis and will not be supporting the Committee’s report today.

Perhaps I may reiterate that we are not saying that the Committee is immune. We are saying that it is evident that any Member of the House can challenge the appointment to the Committee of any member of the Committee, which frequently happens; that any Member of the House can challenge a reference to the Privileges Committee, and that, too, does happen; and that Members can challenge the terms of reference to the Committee and raise concerns about the procedure. But what Members cannot do is say that something is a witch hunt and a kangaroo court, and that there is collusion; impugn the integrity of the individual members of the Committee; and also undermine the standing of the Committee, because that is undermining the proceedings of the House. If hon. Members are not sure what “impugn” means, they can look at “Erskine May”, which goes into it in great detail—

I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Lady is being continually interrupted, but may I ask her for some clarity on the point she is making? She has mentioned impugning the integrity of members of the Committee in part of the motion, with which I have considerable sympathy. I just want to understand this point. I do not suggest that this has happened here or at any time in the past, but she will recognise that it is conceivable that it would be right to impugn the integrity of a member of the Committee, or of more than one of its members, if there were evidence to do so. May I just be clear that what this motion should be taken to mean is that someone should not impugn the integrity of members of the Committee while an inquiry is ongoing? If there is evidence to do so later, there are mechanisms by which we can do so. We should be clear, should we not, that what this motion means is that while an inquiry is ongoing, it is wrong to impugn the integrity of any member of the Committee?

That is absolutely right, and that is so that the Committee can do its business properly, as mandated by the House, as is the case with the Standards Committee. We cannot have a situation where Members are reluctant to serve on the Committee because, as soon as they undertake an inquiry, it is open season on them. We cannot have a situation where the outcome is based on pressure and lobbying, rather than the gathering and consideration of the evidence.

The motion does not create any new categories of contempt, nor does it extend what can be regarded as contempt. It simply makes it explicit that the focused, time-limited protection that the House has already made explicit for standards cases is the same for privilege cases.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the motion were not to go through, and it was to be open season on all future members of the Privileges Committee during inquiries, the only recourse for this House to ensure that it was not lied to in future would be to have an outside system to assess that, which would be constitutionally novel and—I think—highly dangerous?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. If this work of the Privileges Committee is to be done in-house by Members of this House, this House must support them in that work. If the House is not prepared to do that, and it is open season on Members who are put forward for the Committee, we would very quickly find ourselves with an independent, outside process. Most Members of the House want us to keep the process in-house, but to do that we must all respect it.

The right hon. and learned Lady talks about collusion and lobbying. Can she explain how it was that Guardian reporters were briefed before Privileges Committee reports were published for us in this place, and, if she knows who had sight of those reports, who was doing the collusion with those journalists?

Again, this is very unfortunate. I say to the hon. Lady that hon. Members are given a task to do on behalf of the House. They do it to the best of their ability, with integrity, and they should be supported in doing that. Although the hon. Lady was very much against the outcome, which came about on the basis of the evidence, it is not acceptable then to criticise the process, except through the channels and in the ways that I have set out.

Our special report draws upon “Erskine May”. I invite hon. and right hon. Members to read paragraphs 15.14 and 15.16 of “Erskine May”, which make it crystal clear that it is not acceptable for a Member of this House to seek, by lobbying or arousing public hostility, to influence the decision of members of the Committee, or to undermine the Committee’s credibility and authority. All this is about protecting the House from being misled, by ensuring that there is a strong and fair Committee that will, on behalf of the House, undertake an inquiry, and that there are Members prepared to serve on the Committee and able to do that work without interference.

We heard his name mentioned earlier, in respect of the previous report, but will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that Sir Ernest Ryder was still in place for the preparation of this special report, that he agreed with the findings of the Committee, and that he found that there was nothing improper about the work of the Committee in this report?

Yes, Sir Ernest Ryder, who provided us with advice for the fifth report, which was the substantive report into Boris Johnson, also provided us with advice for this special report, for which we are grateful. We also had expert advice from the Clerks, including at the most senior level, so that we could be absolutely certain that we were complying with all the rules and processes laid down by the House.

The objective here is not to protect members of the Privileges Committee. It is even more important and fundamental than that. The objective is to protect this House and thereby to protect our democracy, so I commend this motion to the House.

The motion before the House is proportionate: it seeks only to provide the Privileges Committee, once it is established and sitting, with the same protections enjoyed by the Standards Committee. That is all it does. All colleagues respect the Standards Committee when it is sitting. I hope that we can extend that respect to the Privileges Committee and that the motion is carried.

I was struck by what the Leader of the House said in her speech. I wrote three or four speeches for this afternoon’s debate—some reflective, some angry and some defensive—but I have put them all aside.

You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), the former Prime Minister, was a great friend of mine—one of my greatest friends in politics. I fought tooth and nail, with every fibre in my body, to keep her in No. 10. I turned up whenever I was needed, to do whatever needed to be done, but we lost—that battle was lost.

I see my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), the chair of the 1922 committee, in the Chamber. Very quickly, the late Dame Cheryl Gillan and I were thrust into being acting chairs of the 1922 committee, and we oversaw the contest for the new leader of the party. The former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) was successful; I was one of five people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West, present when, de facto, he became leader of our party and, de facto, the following day, Prime Minister. That was 24 July 2019.

That day, or shortly afterwards, I was in the Tea Room having supper with my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, the former Prime Minister, when in bounced the then Secretary of State for Transport, my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps). He has been my political neighbour for 18 and a half years. Sometimes we are the best of friends; sometimes we are the best of enemies. When we fall out, we normally find an accommodation that allows us to become friends again.

You may recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that in 2018, my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield was the first to call for the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, to stand down. So when he bounced into the Tea Room, the day she ceased to be Prime Minister, or a few days later, and sat down with his supper, I thought, “Oh my word. This is going to be pretty tasty”—not the supper, the conversation. I thought there would be fireworks, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, unencumbered by the office of Prime Minister, could really have a go at my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield, my next door neighbour in Hertfordshire. The former Prime Minister fixed him with a steely eye and said, “Now, Mr Shapps, I have a small station in my constituency that needs some investment. What are you going to do for me?”

In this place, we are judged not by how we handle our successes, but by how we cope with our disappointments. In that Tea Room exchange, I learned so much about character, courage, humility and dignity. To return to the motion, I hope that it is passed tonight. There is a lot of upset and grievance on the Government side of the House, but eventually we have to cast that to one side and move forward.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker—Madam Deputy Speaker, sorry. I think I got my pronouns mixed up. I rise to support the motion before us today. I am glad that there are no amendments to it, because it is the motion that the Privileges Committee asked to be put before the House in its special report. It is very important that

“this House notes with approval the Special Report”.

For us to do that will give us the best chance as a democratic House to put what has been an unprecedented period behind us. It is not usual, as we all know, for a Prime Minister to agree that a Privileges Committee report into what he said on the Floor of this House be sent to the Privileges Committee, as happened in April 2022, with the unanimous support of the House. It is not usual for a Privileges Committee report to involve such high stakes as the one that the members of the Privileges Committee—many of them are sitting here listening to this debate—had to cope with. We have never in my experience—I am not sure that it is even in the history books—had a Privileges Committee of any Parliament put in quite that position. It is therefore to the credit of this House—

Just while we are discussing semantics —I am referring to the interaction that we had on what “impugn” might mean—the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) mentioned the words, “with approval”. My interpretation of “with approval” is that every word in this motion is absolute and correct. I have to say that, having heard the evidence, on the first occasion that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) has been able to speak as part of this evidence, he raised doubts about what has been published as supposedly coming from him. Am I getting this wrong? My interpretation of approval is that it is all absolutely correct. If that is the case, I am afraid that I have doubts on that front.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will do what he thinks is right—I think we can all guess what that will be—when we vote. I note that the way in which this House has traditionally worked is that there are Standing Orders and there is Erskine May, but there are also unwritten assurances about how this House should behave when these issues are before it. Certainly, the Leader of the House was correct to ask, rather philosophically, at the beginning of this debate what had changed to cause the emergence of behaviour that I would not have expected to see when I first came into this House 31 years ago. I would not have expected to see people’s integrity being impugned in quite the way that it has been while they were doing duties that this House had unanimously asked them to do. But, of course, social media did not exist when I first came into this House, and neither did GB News. Before things get any more heated, we need to stop and think about the consequences of allowing the behaviour that we have seen in the past few months, as the Privileges Committee has done its report, to continue.

It is to the credit of this House that the Privileges Committee’s original report—its fifth report—was debated and carried by such a majority. That puts a line in the sand. It enables us to begin to rebuild the reputation of this House and to use the Privileges Committee to ensure that this House can police itself on the Floor in the Chamber and bring Ministers to account by insisting that they tell the truth.

The special report, again as the Leader of the House pointed out, is unprecedented, because people have never behaved this way in the past when a Privileges Committee was attempting to carry out the duty that was given to it by a motion that was passed unanimously by the House. It is important, given that similar rules apply to the Committee on Standards, that, in what I hope will be the rare occasions in the future when the Privileges Committee may have to meet to do its job and be convened, it will be allowed to do so.

As I said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), if we cannot restore the respect that the Privileges Committee must have to do its job in future, we will have to create an outside body to do it. That would be a very profound constitutional change, with far greater implications for the freedom of people to speak in this House than simply abiding by decency, courtesy and proper rules when the Privileges Committee is meeting.

Why on earth would outside individuals want to serve on such a body, if they are to be subjected to the kinds of public abuse that we have seen in this case?

That is the problem, and I think the special report has done us a service by bringing it to the attention of this House. It is something we have to think about as we consider the motion.

We have been living through febrile times. We have seen two Members of this House assassinated in the past few years while doing their jobs. There is a lot of anger and controversy out there, wound up and heated up by the way social media works. I think everybody in this House, especially those who have been subjected to some of those outside pressures—there will be many Members of this House who have—needs to think very carefully about how they conduct themselves and the kinds of words they use.

If there is no respect in this House for the Privileges Committee and the things that we try to do to maintain good behaviour and decency in this House, there will be even less respect outside, and that will damage our ability to ensure that our democracy works properly, because without truth there is no democracy. Although this looks like quite a small report, it is a very significant one, and it is important that Members on all sides of the House, whatever faction they are in, consider seriously the implications of not voting for the motion tonight.

I have to say that, now that a little of the heat has gone out of the situation, I would have liked to see the Members mentioned in the report have the good grace to stand up and apologise to the House for some of the language they have used, such as kangaroo courts, marsupials and comments about “calibre, malice and prejudice”. The House voted for the members of the Committee to be tasked with a very difficult job. Nobody in their right mind would want to find themselves in that position. It is not a nice way to spend parliamentary time—much less attending 30 meetings, under enormous stress and with the outside social media pressures coming in at them from all angles.

As someone who stood against the leader of my party, I can tell hon. Members that I have had some experience of how that works out. I have also had experience of how what one does in here can translate out there into threatening behaviour and difficulties—[Hon. Members: “We all have!”] Yes, and I said that earlier in my speech, if Conservative Members were listening.

Therefore, no matter how high the stakes, it is extremely important that when Members comment, they do so within the Standing Orders and the rules of this House, and that they save comments about witch-hunts, kangaroo courts, malice and the rest of it for when the Committee has reported. One unique thing about this House is that while a report is being compiled and evidence is being collected, that Committee cannot respond to what is being put to it in a 24-hour news cycle. It must wait and let its report do the talking.

I suspect that those Members who tried to blacken the names of those compiling the report, and unleash that kind of process against them, knew exactly what they were doing and knew exactly the pressure they were trying to bring to bear. It is absolutely shameful that some Members named in the report indulged in that kind of behaviour, including two ex-Cabinet Ministers, members of the Privy Council and an ex-Leader of the House—the right hon. Member for North East Somerset —who knows better, and who knows that he knows better than to behave in that way.

When I came to this House, I never thought that I would see such behaviour. It is to the great detriment of Conservative Members that we have seen such behaviour. I ask them, one last time, to have the grace to get up during the debate and apologise to the House for the way in which they behaved prior to the Privileges Committee publishing its report, and give us an assurance that they will not do it again.

I have found the debate thus far more than interesting for a number of reasons. A great deal has been said and commented upon in terms of parliamentary procedure and respect for one another, both of which I absolutely support, but also in terms of some of the selective quotes in the report, which have been echoed today, and how they are ascribed to certain Members who have been named in the report. Some of it has been taken out of context, and I will reflect on that point. I do not think that it is healthy for this wonderful Parliament to end up making generalised assumptions and assertions about individuals based on the annex to the report. That is why I wanted to speak today.

Clearly, I am named in the annex and referenced in paragraph 14. As someone who has had claims made about their actions in the report, and who has been named and had judgments passed on their conduct both by the Committee and so far in the debate—totally inaccurate judgments, if I may say so—I think it is right that I get, at least, a right of reply. I am incredibly respectful of process, not just because I have served in Government, but because being a parliamentarian is the greatest honour we all have, and upholding our traditions, our democracy and parliamentary standards is absolutely right. However, although I appreciate that right hon. and hon. Members may disagree with me, including the Chair of the Committee, who is entitled to do so, I feel that the assertions and claims made in this special report are wrong and cannot be substantiated by the so-called evidence that has been produced and published.

Did my right hon. Friend collude in any way with any of the persons listed in the report, or with anyone else, to place pressure on the Committee?

That comes back to the evidence and the point that I was about to make. The answer is: absolutely not. I just do not think it appropriate that, unless the evidence is provided and published, there is an absence of process by the Committee. I do not know if the annex is an exhaustive list of Members of this House—the Chair of the Committee is very welcome to respond to my comments—but it seems quite selective and exclusive. That is why it is important to have this debate and discussion.

On 16 March 2023, during an interview on GB News, the right hon. Lady said:

“the lack of accountability…I think there is a culture of collusion quite frankly involved here.”

Can I have some evidence of that please?

I will come to that particular quote, so the hon. Gentleman will hear what I have to say then.

I come back to my point on whether the annex is conclusive. Should other individuals in the House have been included in it? On what basis were decisions made? At the outset I put it clearly on the record that it is wrong of Members to seek to place undue and improper pressure on any Members investigating matters at a Committee level. There are processes in place, and it is right that they should be respected. I believe that there is a case for looking at how the processes of this Committee can be clarified, and how the members of that Committee and the persons who are subject to inquiries are protected. From my experience of the handling of all this, I can say that to be named in a report having had no notification—no correspondence or anything of that nature—that I was being investigated for prior conduct—

The shadow Leader of the House shakes her head, but I just do not think that that is acceptable. We have heard great speeches on having respect for one another, and I agree completely. We must treat each other with civility: if we intend to name another Member in the Chamber, we let them know beforehand. That is an important part of the process.

We have heard about lobbying and collusion. As one who has served in government, as Home Secretary, I have been involved in all sorts of quasi-judicial policy and decision making on high-profile and complex issues, day in, day out, much of which was the subject of quite active lobbying by Opposition Members. We live in a democracy, and we should be able to have these discussions. All Ministers know that orchestrated campaigns and lobbying are absolutely day-to-day things that go on; that is part of a democracy—the values and safeguards of free speech and freedom of expression. A democracy recognises the value and the importance of challenging and questioning processes and decision making. That is one reason why we are all here as elected Members of Parliament: we do this on behalf of our country and our constituents, and because we have a democratic responsibility to do it.

In doing that, we raise uncomfortable questions all the time. That is what we do, day in, day out. To silence and cancel out the comments and voices of individuals carries great risk, and I am very worried about that. It causes me grave concern. That is why the decision on the motion must be taken carefully.

The right hon. Lady is making a good case that we need to treat each other with respect. Is claiming that a Committee has been involved in collusion, as she did on GB News, part of that respect?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

It is important that there is due process, and it seems to me that the report does not deliver the guidance and the processes that would be helpful to the House when dealing with matters that have been considered by the Privileges Committee. That is because the report is not concerned with establishing or recommending new processes and protections, and we should not sit here pretending that it is. This report has been used by the Committee to criticise and censure individuals. The House should reflect on that in the light of my comments.

The House will set, in my view, a dangerous precedent if it approves a report that censures and passes judgment on Members of the House without granting due process—fair due process, I should add—to the Members it makes allegations about.

My right hon. Friend knows that I was a member of the Committee. Along with every other member of the Committee, I was clear that there is no censure in the report. Will she clarify what she means by censure? That was certainly not what the Committee intended.

Would the hon. Lady like to intervene? She is very welcome to. She has spoken. With respect, she also asked for civility in the Chamber and in the way in which we engage with one another. Everyone has strong opinions and, with that, it is right and respectful that we listen to each other.

I think every member of the Committee firmly believes that every Member of Parliament has the right to share their opinions in this House, but the 2019 House of Commons code for Members is very clear: Members must not lobby the Committee, or the Commissioner in a manner calculated to influence their consideration of issues related to conduct. The current Members’ code of conduct does not mention that the Privileges Committee should be included in that. This report suggests that that should be amended so that Members serving on the Privileges Committee are also afforded those rights. I do not want any Member of Parliament to be prevented from saying what they believe once a report is published, but not during the process of producing a report.

With respect, I have heard what my hon. Friend has had to say, but if he had listened to what I have had to say, he would know that I am worried that this will set a dangerous precedent.

I was going to make a very similar point to the one that the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) has just made. Does the right hon. Member agree that this is not about criticising a report once it is published? It is about not trying to nobble it while it is going on.

With all respect to the hon. Lady, in her remarks today, she used a range of phrases, which she scatter-gunned around the Chamber, in an accusatory way about what individuals have said or may not have said. She cannot apply that to all of us, so I think she should have been careful in some of the phrases that she used.

If I may, I will comment further about my concerns with the process. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) touched on an important point, about which Mr Speaker is also very clear—he is a strong proponent of the concept that important matters should come to the House first, before they are published in the media. As she pointed out regarding the publication of Committee reports, paragraphs 15.10 and 38.56 of “Erskine May” refer to the premature publication and disclosure of Committee proceedings as being in contempt. Cakeism is a phrase that has already been used this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg). We cannot have it both ways.

I recognise the Committee’s frustrations that the report was leaked, and I know that comments have been made when the Government did not come to the House before announcing things in the media. However, we have to be concerned that details contained in the special report were published by a particular newspaper at 7.20 pm on Wednesday 28 June, some 13 hours and 40 minutes before the special report was published, and before people named in its annex were informed.

Frankly, given how this has all been conducted—individuals were not contacted in advance and there was no right of reply—is the House not concerned that that newspaper, The Guardian, knew of the report’s contents before the rest of us did? Surely that should be a matter for investigation as well. If the Committee is so concerned with cases of contempt of the House, investigating how the report or its contents were leaked to The Guardian before it was published is something else that should feature in due process.

Would any members of the Committee or its Chair like to explain why that newspaper knew in advance, before the rest of us? What action is going to be taken? We have already heard talk about restoring parliamentary democracy and integrity to Parliament. Again, that would give confidence to Members that due process was being followed, but it would also give confidence to the public, who also expect standards across the board to be upheld.

We have a report from the Committee that names Members and peers, but it did not inform us in advance. We have discussed already the House’s rules on behaviour and courtesies. I personally think that Members should be given notice; that is respectful. During my time serving on the Front Bench, or on the Back Benches, as I am now, I hope that I have never offended a Member of this House by being so discourteous as to name them without informing them in advance. That is a good standard that we should all live up to.

Not only has there been a lack of courtesy shown to Members named in the report, but the absence of due process concerns me a lot. Until this was published, I and colleagues had no idea that we were being investigated, or that there were references to us as individuals in the annex in relation to the inquiry into Mr Johnson.

I have been here for all of the right hon. Lady’s speech and, over the 14 minutes of it,, I have been desperately hoping she was going to get to the point she really wants to raise. She does not disagree that she said the things that are in the report, but she thinks it is discourteous that she was not told in advance. She thinks other people may have said things that were missed out of the report. What is actually the main point of what, over the last 14 minutes, she has been saying?

If the hon. Gentleman had the courtesy of listening, the point is actually due process. As he would know, if he had listened to my opening remarks, I also said that I was sure not everyone here would agree with what I was about to say, but affording the courtesy of debate in this House was exactly why we were here. If he does not want to hear what I am saying, he might actually want to leave the Chamber, rather than carrying on in this way. It is important in the debate to have a right of reply. Again, I appreciate that he and other Members will disagree with this, but I think it is right that the basics should be put on the public record. The country is watching. Well, some of the country is watching, if they are not watching Wimbledon right now, but this is an insight into how we engage in our business, and what right of reply Members do or do not have. Quite frankly, this will affect all Members; it is not just about supporting those today, because there will be others in the future and that is important.

Some of the language that has been used is important as well. I personally think that it simply cannot be right or fair for a Committee to make claims or assertions without giving notice in advance, or the chance to at least respond to allegations. I am going to go as far as to say, if I may, that I found some of this deeply secretive and I just do not think that Select Committees operate in this way; they really do not. I have had the great privilege of serving on a number of Select Committees and I think the way in which we conduct ourselves is very important.

I notice that the Leader of the House said that this is deeply unusual. It is all deeply unusual, and not just because of a lack of process. My office, supported by the House of Commons Library, undertook some research to see if there was any precedent for MPs being named, and effectively or potentially sanctioned or censured in a report by a Committee. [Interruption.] No, I am giving an example. I hear what the hon. Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) says, but I am just giving an example—colleagues might learn something from this, too. Even the Library said that it could not think of any Committee on Standards, Privileges Committee, or former Committees on Standards recommending anything of this nature without the opportunity for those named to make their case. Today is a chance at least to give that a bit of an airing and to make the case as well.

I will conclude my remarks. Again, in the light of what I have said thus far, there are so many issues here that I think will have wide implications for Parliament, if I may say so, and for Members of Parliament. I have touched on process. The evidence issue—the lack of evidence that the Committee has presented—has been touched on as well. Paragraph 14 makes serious allegations that I and other Members were part of a co-ordinated campaign of interfering with the work of the Privileges Committee, so one would expect those claims to be backed up with some serious volumes of evidence, but they are not. While the Committee may obviously disagree with Members, the fact that people can now freely express views about the inquiry is obviously part of living in a healthy democracy, with free speech and freedom of expression. However, the Committee has not explained in this report how the expression of an opinion or a view that some people shared could in itself undermine the work of the Committee or could be co-ordinated.

The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans), a member of the Committee, touched on my remarks quoted in the annex. Those remarks came from an interview on Budget day that covered a range of issues: the economy, taxation, the Budget, migration—lively issues that I think all Members in the House like to discuss. We also discussed Mr Johnson, and the activities of a Mrs Sue Gray and the Leader of the Opposition. It is not at all clear from the Committee’s report why it believes that a reference, in a lengthy interview covering multiple issues, to questions over transparency and accountability constitutes interference in its work, could be disturbing, or could be part of a co-ordinated campaign. Those are areas on which we should get clarity.

So far, the suggestions have been one-way; we have been told that we should go to the Committee if there are issues, but the Committee could have raised any issues with us. The Committee could have done that if it had any concern about comments I made. I am not someone who hides behind the sofa in Parliament; many colleagues will recognise that. I would welcome lively engagement, as I am sure other Members referenced in the annex would have done. I certainly would have welcomed the Committee contacting and engaging with me in good time. That is quite important. Frankly, I think the public will still reach their own conclusions about all this.

I appreciate that I have detained the House for a lengthy period—I thank hon. Members for listening—but given the tone of the accusations made, the contents of the annex, and the lack of a prior opportunity to respond, it is important that we have this discussion and that colleagues listen. I hope that the Committee will reflect on comments made about process. I really do not think that there is evidence to substantiate the claims that have been made and, if the motion is agreed to, there will be the ongoing matter for the House of what that means for MPs.

I might be boring for Britain right now, but I believe in transparency, accountability and due process, particularly having sat on the Front Bench; today we have also heard about holding Ministers to account. I believe in all that. Woe betide the Minister who misleads Parliament. Sometimes there is not enough scrutiny of the details of what Ministers say, and not enough challenges. That is why it is important that we have this debate about accountability, transparency, due process, and sometimes correcting the record. I believe, as do other hon. and right hon. Members, in transparency, freedom of speech and Members facing fair and due process when allegations are made about their actions. That should be dealt with properly. I urge Members to think about the impact that the report will have on our parliamentary democracy and our freedoms. I fundamentally believe that, without freedom of speech, there can be no democracy; it is something that we have to preserve, stand up for and respect in this House.

The initial Privileges Committee investigation into the former Prime Minister, the then Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, has set a clear and fundamental precedent. If a Prime Minister deliberately misleads this House and, by extension, the public, there will be consequences. I put on record my thanks to the hon. and right hon. Members who served on the Privileges Committee. Considering the weighty matter of whether a former Prime Minister misled the House was clearly a significant task, and it is regrettable that, as the report outlines, the actions of some hon. and right hon. Members made the task harder for Members serving on the Committee. As we have heard, that was not without personal consequences for those Members.

As the Leader of the House pointed out in her opening remarks, there are ways and means of raising issues of privilege. We should remember that the investigation had its genesis in a motion that was passed in this House without Division; not a single Member named in the report voted against the motion. Not only is the Committee cross party, but it has a Conservative majority. It is worth pointing out that there is no Liberal Democrat on the Committee, but I accept as an individual MP that the current process involves a cross-party group of MPs, and they are trusted by this House to investigate with impartiality and to make their findings available for consideration by the House. Those recommendations are then to be approved or rejected by this House. Had Boris Johnson been suspended from Parliament for more than 10 days and chosen to remain an MP, it would have been up to the people of Uxbridge to determine whether they wanted to re-elect him as their MP. Members from all parts of the House must make it clear that we will not tolerate attempts to undermine or attack the vitally important work of this Committee.

We were promised integrity, accountability and professionalism at all levels of government, and I have to note, like the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), the current Prime Minister’s steadfast refusal to declare where he stands on this issue, let alone to engage with the substantive content of this report and the previous one. That is an abdication of his duty not only as Prime Minister but as an individual MP. It is unfortunate.

The hon. Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) said she was pleased that the report was not amended, but there is a sign of weakness from the Government, where they have said “no, thank you” to the offer in the Privileges Committee’s report. It stated:

“It will be for the House to consider what further action, if any, to take in respect of Members of the House referred to in this special report.”

I would go as far as to suggest that had the Government taken the opportunity to make some process clear following today’s report, they might have seen off some of the accusations of lack of due process that we have heard today from Members named in the report and those supporting them. Today should have served as an opportunity to set another precedent and to make it clear that there are consequences for those who seek to obstruct the important work of a cross-party, independent Committee. It is a shame that the Government have not done so. That is why I tabled my amendment.

I accept that my amendment has not been selected, but the clear route forward would have been for the Committee to consider whether contempt had been committed and to return a verdict and, if necessary, a sanction. As the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) said, that could have given her an opportunity to make her case in relation to what has been reported. The same process was used for the Committee’s report into the former Prime Minister, Mr Johnson. I also point out that today’s debate does not shut the window on that opportunity. The Government could bring forward such a motion if they wished at any future point; they could bring it forward tomorrow, and I hope they do so.

This place is still suffering from the Owen Paterson decision, because that was the point where the convention of this House to accept Privileges Committee and Standards Committee reports on the nod was broken by the Government. Now is the time for a reset.

I rise to speak in my capacity as Chair of the Procedure Committee. I have to start by apologising to my Clerk, who wrote a detailed technical note about the procedures involved in this motion. All the technical points that my Clerk made have been made already, so I will not detain the House with them, but I thank her for the work she did.

Instead, I will make some general points about what we do in this place and how I hope we might be able to start behaving in a slightly different way. I will start by referring to the point about Committees. We cannot cover every issue on the Floor of this House, and that is why we depute Members to serve on Committees, whether Select Committees, House Committees such as the Procedure Committee, or Bill Committees. We ask those Members to spend their time—they do take up significant amounts of their time—scrutinising legislation and looking at issues that have been raised with them.

The members of the Standards and Privileges Committees have the most difficult jobs of effectively having to police the behaviour of their own colleagues. They have personal reasons often for not wishing to be part of that, but they do it because this House has asked them to do it. We should always remember that point: they are serving because the House has asked them to serve; they are not serving through choice, and they are doing a difficult job. I will come on to the point that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) made about policing ourselves, because there is a real danger if we do not take this matter seriously.

When it comes to Select Committees that report, there is absolutely nothing to stop any Member from criticising a report once it has been published. In fact, Governments usually criticise such reports substantially in their responses. Select Committees expect their reports to be scrutinised and examined, and they expect criticism of them—that is the very nature of our parliamentary debate and democracy. Nobody is saying that, once a report has been published, Members cannot criticise it. The important point is that there are ways in which we can interact with Committees while they are doing their work. Those are set out clearly in the report.

The substantive part of the motion, paragraph (b)—that the Committee should have the same protection as the Standards Committee—is uncontroversial. What has become clear is that the way in which Members feel they have been impugned without a say, which makes paragraph (a) of the motion controversial. It might be best if the Leader of the House were to withdraw the motion and re-table it with just paragraph (b). We might then avoid the argument and Division that we are going to have.

I served with my right hon. Friend in the Whips Office and have enormous respect for him. The Committee proposed the motion. We asked the Committee to do its work, and it proposed the motion. There is nothing unparliamentary about what it has put forward and there is nothing that is not procedurally accurate in what it has done. I for one will back my colleagues, because I would ask them to back me on a motion about a report that I had put forward as a Select Committee Chair, and I would hope that they would do so.

As someone who has the privilege of serving on my right hon. Friend’s Procedure Committee, may I ask her whether she can recall a single occasion when the Procedure Committee has produced a report naming individuals without giving those individuals the opportunity first to present evidence? Is it not the problem that we have a report based not on evidence but on stuff that has been tweeted? As somebody who does not do tweets, I am ever more grateful that I do not.

My hon. Friend is a very assiduous member of the Procedure Committee. He is right that we would report evidence for an inquiry only if it had been given to us by a Member in good faith and they knew it was going to be reported, but in this case we are not talking about that; we are talking about evidence produced in the report that is in the public domain. It has not been gathered in any other way. Of course, the motion is not the report; it is about giving the members of the Privileges Committee the same protections as members of the Standards Committee. It is difficult to argue against that.

I agree with the substantive point about the Privileges Committee being given the same protection as the Standards Committee, but you referred to evidence in the report, and I have been quite clear that that “evidence” was taken out of context in some cases—not least mine.

My hon. Friend will have the opportunity to make that point during the debate. I would also pick him up on having made a slight technical error in what he said. He said “you”, which refers to Madam Deputy Speaker. I suggest that when we make an inadvertent technical error around our procedures, the most appropriate thing to do at that stage is to apologise and move on. That is the point here. Things have been said by some in the public domain that could have constituted criticism and an attempt to influence the Committee, and that is not allowed in our procedures.

There are ways in which Committees can be approached. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash)—my next-door neighbour—did exactly that on 22 July last year, when he tabled an early-day motion, signed by four other Members, in which he criticised the Committee and what it was doing. That was perfectly parliamentary. He was able to do that and did nothing wrong in tabling that early-day motion.

We cannot start on the slope of allowing Members to try to influence all sorts of Committees, be that the Procedure Committee, the Work and Pensions Committee, the Committee on Standards in Public Life or whatever. We have our procedures in place to enable Members to interact with Committees. They can make representations to Committees, they can vote on the membership of Committees, and they can vote on the motions and the terms of reference. That is all available, and then, when the report is published, they can say whatever they wish about that, because it is in the public domain. That is the technical difference.

I will allow one further intervention. I did say only one earlier, but I will allow my hon. Friend.

My right hon. Friend, with her expertise on the Procedure Committee, clearly has much more experience in procedures than I do. Could she help me? The Privileges Committee has produced interim information on how it was to proceed with the difficult task it had been given. There will be Members who wish to agree with that process and those who wish perhaps to agree with and criticise the process. She suggested that a Member could table an early-day motion. Are there other ways in which that can be done in Parliament? Most specifically, is she suggesting that the Committee cannot be criticised outside Parliament on Twitter and on social media?

What I am saying is that, as right hon. and hon. Members we have a duty to protect and work with our friends who are doing this difficult work. There are many ways in which Members can interact with a Committee as it carries out such work: they can make representations; they can probably raise points of order on the Floor of the House; they can table early-day motions and all manner of other motions—and they are parliamentary ways. They are not through the general media or Twitter or other ways.

Just to clarify, is my right hon. Friend saying that if asked in general by perhaps a journalist for one’s opinion on such things, one should not give an opinion because one should leave it to the parliamentary process?

Yes, absolutely—that is exactly the point. The Standards Committee and the Privileges Committee in particular have specific provisions in “Erskine May”, and the members of those Committees cannot answer back—they have no right to do so—so until a Committee has reported, it is not parliamentary to make such comments. I gently say that if this happened inadvertently because Members did not know—this is a very technical point—I am sure that an apology, saying just that there was no intention to influence the Committee, would be appreciated.

I turn to my final point, which, actually, the hon. Member for Wallasey started to make, which is about policing ourselves. I would very much like us to get back to having motions on House business going through on the nod. The moment we started to whip House business put us on a very slippery slope, because the House will make decisions and the House needs to support Members. I hope that we can go back to those things going through on the nod, with us trusting our colleagues to police us.

We did not do things well when it came to our expenses. We policed our own expenses, and look at what happened as a result of that. I strongly suggest that nobody in the House wants us to get to a position where an outside body, third parties and non-Members start to police us. If we want to continue policing ourselves, we need to have faith in the system we have, and we need to support those right hon. and hon. Members who are doing their very best to do their job.

The Privileges Committee has had an important duty to fulfil. I want to put on the record my thanks to it for the work it has done, and in particular to its Chair, who has been a lightning rod for criticism. I also want to mention the Conservative members of the Committee who, in addition to the public questioning of their credentials, have had to withstand some internal party pressure, which we have read about in the report. I understand how difficult it is to go against a colleague in any situation, never mind a former leader. It is to their credit that they have stood firm against that pressure. Their wider duty to the democratic process has prevailed. We should all bear in mind that whichever party is in power, if there are no consequences for misleading Parliament, we might as well all pack up and go home.

The motion, as we know, is not about that former Member; it is about undermining the Committee and its work. Given the seriousness of the allegations, which appear to be beyond doubt—they are a matter of public record—this really ought to be a watershed moment about how we conduct ourselves not just inside the Chamber but outside it as well. We are not commentators or bystanders in the political process; we are part of the glue that holds our democracy together, and when we pick away at the threads that tie our system together, we need to be careful that we do not unravel the whole thing.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that Members of Parliament directly elected by our constituents have fewer rights to comment on social media and outside this House than ordinary members of the public and the press.

That is not at all what I am saying. It is clear that people have had plenty to say on this report today. We do not comment on reports of other Committees of the House until they are finalised, which is absolutely correct and proper. There are very good reasons, which we have heard today, why we should continue to do that.

The fact that we are still having this debate shows that Conservative Members do not understand why we have to show some restraint when dealing with sensitive internal matters. There is no shortage of people out there who will call us out for being motivated solely by party politics. By our very nature we are political animals, but on occasions we need to move beyond that, remember the wider public interest and show that standards in public life matter. When it comes to our duties to our constituents and to the country, we should be the leaders; we should not be following others.

Let us imagine that if every time a constituent received a parking fine or had to go to court for some reason, they decided to challenge the integrity of the court or the body issuing that fine. Nothing would ever be decided, would it? The reason that does not happen in a mature democracy is that nothing would ever work. What kind of message would we send as parliamentarians if we do not trust a body that was set up by Parliament itself to deal with such an important matter? We would give the green light to chaos.

It is not that those who have questioned the Committee’s integrity have not availed themselves of the opportunity to do something about it. We have heard plenty of times already that there was plenty of opportunity to object to its competence. Members did not do that because, deep down, they know that anyone placed on that Committee deserves the trust and the confidence of the rest of this place to do their job. Given the Conservative majority on the panel, it would have been absurd for people to have objected to its composition anyway. That is what makes the claims that it was a kangaroo court look even more desperate and damaging.

We need confidence in our colleagues that they will do their duty beyond the day-to-day hustle and bustle of party politics, because that is how politics will survive in this country. We in this place are custodians of democracy. How we act, what we say and what is deemed acceptable all matter, because they become the norm for the generations to follow. If we are not careful, the standards and behaviours that a healthy Parliament should have will be lost and, before we know it, we will be in a dark place indeed.

Given the hon. Member’s point about how we in this House are custodians, does he agree that a report of this nature should at least provide some evidence when it makes a statement such as

“the most disturbing examples of the co-ordinated campaign”?

As far as I can see, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support that statement. If you are custodians of the House—

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows, as happened previously with the hon. Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), that he must not address other Members directly. “You” means me—okay?

There is evidence—it is in the annexes. It is pretty clear that there was a co-ordinated campaign from a Conservative organisation to lobby Committee members. If people are insisting that what is there in black and white is not what happened, we are in a very strange place indeed. We will not survive if that is how we carry on.

Our democracy is fragile and needs to be protected. It cannot be taken for granted. It has to be cherished, supported and nurtured. We are its current guardians. Sometimes, we have to accept that we have said things that we should not have said, and we have to apologise and move on. We have to accept that saying the right thing is not always easy. Sometimes, “sorry” is the hardest word to say. Sometimes, we have to accept that someone on our own side may not have met the standards that we would expect everyone to adhere to. No one should be bigger than democracy—no individual, no Government.

This place should be a force for good. It should be here to tackle injustices in all their forms. When there is an assault on the rules that govern this place—as we have seen in this report—to suit a short-term political agenda, we will all pay a much harsher price in the long term. This all about leadership. We are all required to be leaders. Our parliamentary system has relied on people behaving with honour and according to respected conventions. When a strand of political thinking does not respect the rules and does not think that constitutional road blocks are anything other than something to be driven around, the weaknesses in our current system become all too apparent. Over time, democracy will be eroded until we end up in a place where no authority is respected, no rules matter and nobody believes anything we say any more.

It will not have escaped Members’ notice that deepfake videos are becoming more commonplace. We face a huge challenge as a Parliament and a country to maintain trust in the face of that and the cesspit of social media. We need to put in the hard yards to ensure that people can believe the words that come out of our mouths—that they are ours, and true to our values and principles—and that honour still matters in this place. Attacking the institutions that uphold the veracity of what is said in here is causing an additional problem that we could do without. By God, we have enough challenges as a country without making it harder for ourselves by attacking each other over what we believe is a question of integrity.

We can do better. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Parliament should be the beacon of fair play, and an example for others both in this country and abroad of how democracy can work, how it can be a good thing and how it can change lives for the better. Despite our differences, we are not always so bound up in our own tribal disputes that we cannot agree what the truth is and, most importantly, that the truth always matters.

It is a privilege to speak in this debate. I will try not to take too long or to repeat things that have already been said.

It is a great shame that the debate on the Privileges Committee’s fifth report, on Boris Johnson, became largely a debate about the integrity and standing of the Committee itself, rather than just the behaviour of Boris Johnson, which was the subject of the report. I can understand why many Members saw it as such, but it is important to establish in this debate that it is possible and legitimate to be in disagreement with some of the Committee’s conclusions, yet still respect and uphold the Committee’s authority and integrity. I say that because that is exactly the position I took in relation to that report. It must be legitimate to do that if the position is—as it is—that the Committee makes recommendations to the whole House, and the whole House then decides whether to accept them.

The report that we are debating today is entirely about the Privileges Committee’s authority and integrity, and about how that should be upheld. Just as criticism of the Committee’s conclusions can be perfectly legitimate, and just as it is not right to say that any criticism of it is an attack on its authority, so it is not right to say that all attacks on the Committee must be allowable as exercises of free speech. We recognise, do we not, that free speech is sometimes properly restricted in the interests of broader freedoms? That is exactly what we are considering here.

The Committee’s special report makes the strong point that there are legitimate opportunities for Members to oppose a referral of a matter to the Committee in the first place—as has been observed, in the case of Boris Johnson nobody did, not even Boris Johnson. The Committee is also right to say that criticism of its conclusions is perfectly valid, as is a decision not to support those conclusions. What is not valid is to attack or to seek to influence or undermine a Committee that this House has charged with an inquiry while that inquiry is ongoing.

My right hon. and learned Friend allows me to make a point that I have just considered as we have been debating. If this was a criminal trial, it would be sub judice and Members of Parliament would not be allowed to comment on it. Perhaps we should think of the Committee as something analogous to that—a quasi-judicial progress in which Members can complete their work without influence from other Members, while proper processes are still available for Members to make representations.

Yes, I understand entirely the point my right hon. Friend makes. But there are, of course, significant differences between the work done by the Committee and the work of a court. It comes back to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg), which I enjoyed too much to interrupt. It seemed to me that the point he was making about Lord Hoffmann also bears some scrutiny in this respect. Courts are decision-making bodies. The Privileges Committee is not a decision-making body. The House of Commons as a whole is the decision-making body. There is therefore a difference between the way the Privileges Committee operates and the way in which a court operates. Where I do agree with my right hon. Friend is that it is important to the integrity of the Committee’s investigation that Members of this House, having delegating authority to that Committee to do the work, do not seek to derail it while it happens. That does not mean that they are not entitled to criticise any conclusions that the Committee may reach, and nor is it inappropriate, as I have done myself, for a Member not to agree with the conclusions the Committee has reached.

My right hon. and learned Friend is making a very interesting point. Does he not therefore think that there is some form of contempt when persons who had sight of the report and decided, before the report came to this House and was published, to leak it to a Guardian reporter?

I certainly do not think that material of that kind should be leaked to newspapers before it is discussed in this House. I have no knowledge of the facts of who did what, but I agree with my hon. Friend that there should be no leaking of that kind.

We can only, in the context of this debate, discuss the motion before us. If for nothing other than novelty’s sake, perhaps I should speak a little bit about the motion. The Committee makes a good argument that, given there is little material difference, either in process or in the potential consequences for a Member being investigated, between privilege cases on one hand and standards cases on the other, the protection that this House gives to the Privileges Committee and the Standards Committee in the exercise of their duties should be the same. That is a good point, but I think it is also worth noting that the motion does not quite achieve that equality. For standards matters, as is quoted in the special report, the code of conduct states that there must be no lobbying of members of the Committee. There is no mention in the code of conduct in that regard of intimidation, or of impugning the integrity of the Committee, as there is in this motion.

Two questions surely arise. First, should those additional considerations of intimidation and impugning the integrity of the Committee be included? Secondly, if so, should they not be included in relation to standards matters also? On the first, it should not really be necessary to say that intimidation is unacceptable, but it surely cannot be wrong to say it, so I completely support its inclusion in the motion.

As for impugning the integrity of the Committee, as I mentioned in an intervention on the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), it must be a possibility that the integrity of a future Committee—not, of course, this Committee or any previous Committee—could be impugned. The Committee cannot be invulnerable to challenge and criticism, if that criticism is merited. But were that to be the case, as Members of this House we have the right to raise our concerns in debates about the Committee’s recommendations and about any allegations about another Member’s integrity. Members of the Privileges Committee, or not, may well raise themselves the sorts of standards and privileges matters that should be the subject of separate investigations. With that clarity that the impugning of the Committee’s integrity, if any, is not appropriate while an inquiry is under way, again that seems to me a sensible inclusion.

On the second question, the position should surely be equivalent for standards and privileges. Although I fully subscribe to the view, expressed by many, that we really need to move on from this, I am afraid that on another day we will probably at least have to return to the question of whether we need to improve the language on the protections we offer to the Standards Committee, so that it can match this motion, which I hope the House will pass this evening. As others have said, I hope it will pass without a vote, but if it does not, I shall vote in favour of it.

I welcome the opportunity to finally put forward my case.

Magna Carta was issued in June 1215, and was the first document to limit power and formalise the concept that no authority, not even the King, was above the law. It sought to limit the abuses of royal prerogative and birthed an idea, which through the long arc of human history, led to the principle and fact of equality under the law. Further, it led to the long-standing right that every Member of this House would be able to speak without fear or favour. My great ancestor William Marshal, the Earl of Pembroke, who served five monarchs and saved us from the French in the battle of Lincoln, was present at the signing of the great charter and then reissued it in its own name. His statue clutching the great Magna Carta is in the House of Lords looking down on the throne and the Chamber, and, I would imagine, keeping an eye on the monarch and proceedings.

I say that because from this House and from this nation has flowed an example of parliamentary authority through the people; democratic law making, and just and reasonable power. My deep concern is that the Committee may not have followed the example of just or reasonable power, and that it has, I believe, in my opinion, taken three roles as judge, jury and executioner. In its own way, the Committee’s approach has prompted just and reasonable questions. Why is the Committee trying to limit the speech of Members of this House? Why were we, the named MPs, not given the opportunity to defend ourselves before the publication of the report? I believe that the answers to those questions point to the fact that the Committee overstepped the remit given to it by this place to the detriment of democracy and the dialogue that flows from it.

Furthermore, we must ask why, if this House is now policing the speech of hon. Members, has the House not taken action previously? Why was no action taken when the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, “Why aren’t we lynching the bitch?” in reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey)? The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), someone who aspires to be the Deputy Prime Minister of our great country and is a Privy Counsellor, said in public that Conservatives were scum and no action was taken by the House. Then compare that to my tweet, in which I said in reference to the former Member for Uxbridge:

“I hope to see him fully exonerated and to put an end to this kangaroo court.”

Does the hon. Lady agree, on reflection, that to make such a statement, posted on Twitter on 21 March—

“I hope to see him fully exonerated and to put an end to this kangaroo court.”—

during a formal live investigation, ordered unanimously by this House, was at least disrespectful to the members of the Privileges Committee and potentially a contempt of this House, on whose behalf the inquiry was being conducted?

I thank the hon. Member for his prepared question. I believe in freedom of speech. My tweet clearly shows the overreach of the Committee. This is an argument for the right to free speech held not just by Members of this House, but as an ancient right of every citizen of this democracy. The actions of the Committee could mark a dangerous precedent, a slippery slope. Are we, as MPs, to be sanctioned for voicing an opinion on the work of Members’ Committees or the outcomes of this place? If so, colleagues may want to consider how they vote today and what precedent they set, because they may be next. Surely an MP’s job is not only to represent their constituents but to speak truth to power, however uncomfortable that truth may be.

So, Members across the House, let us look at some facts, shall we? My crime is that I wrote a tweet in March expressing an opinion. I have not personally criticised or even spoken with any member of the Committee, or incited any action to be taken against them. I have merely relied on my rights as a Member of this House, which may go against the popular opinion held in this place. Democracy is dialogue, made richer by a range of opinions, views and values.

Six colleagues and I are named in the second report. As has been mentioned, that was not authorised by Parliament. No evidence was heard from us. The Committee makes factual errors. The Conservative Democratic Organisation does not own the Conservative Post; they are two entirely separate organisations. The Committee also lambasts three Members of the House of Lords and the press, the Conservative Post, demonstrating constitutional overreach. It grossly over-interprets what “intimidate” means. How can one tweet, in which I do not refer to any member of the Committee personally, be considered intimidation?

The Committee denounces my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for merely saying that serious questions must be asked. It has selectively targeted Members, ignoring others. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) referred on the BBC to the Committee as a kangaroo court. Now, I have nothing against Mr Seely. He is a very good MP and I have lots of respect for him, but—

Order. The hon. Lady knows that she cannot refer to Members by name; she needs to refer to them by constituency.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have nothing against him—he is a very good MP—but why has he not been included in the report?

The Committee, in my opinion, is attempting to police language and criticism. It is claiming that what has been said about it, but not to it, on TV and Twitter is an attempt to intimidate it directly. Does the Committee have an issue with the right of reply? We never got a right of reply before the report was published. Interfering with the freedom of any Member of Parliament to comment on the Committee’s work sets a dangerous and chilling precedent, not only for freedom of speech but for any work that Committees of this House do in future. MPs will not dare criticise—and if that stands, what a sad place our great House of Commons will have become. Once a great beacon of democracy and freedom, it risks being tainted by silencing those who merely speak up.

Our freedom of speech-loving Prime Minister recently appointed the first ever free speech tsar. Well, maybe he should include the House of Commons in his remit. The Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), said during her recent leadership bid:

“Our democracy thrives on freedom of speech”.

I completely agree. On his website, the Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), wrote:

“The Government and the opposition are determined to lead the world in making sure that being online in the UK is a safe place to be…somewhere that freedom of speech can thrive”.

I agree 100%, Chief.

The hon. Member for Rhondda, Sir Chris Bryant, has said—

Order. The hon. Lady must stop calling people by their name—that is twice now that I have had to say that. Can she assure me that she notified the Chief Whip and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) that she was going to mention them?

After the BBC cancelled an interview with the hon. Member, he wrote that

“some oligarchs’ lawyers are cracking down on free speech.”

The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), commented about Gary Lineker:

“I’m sure we can count on the Free Speech Union to stand up against this hysterical act of cancellation…”.

I am sorry; I am nearly at the end.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) stated:

“Those on the frontline of environmental destruction are freedom fighters”.

Yet seven MPs who express an opinion are hauled into the Chamber to defend themselves in this debate.

If the House truly believes in free speech for all, it should vote down this motion and send a message that this House will not tolerate the policing of speech for Members of this House. By the way, out of common courtesy, I would like to reiterate that I contacted the hon. Members I have mentioned in my speech to say that I would be doing so—a privilege that the seven of us were not afforded by the Privileges Committee, as we had no prior notice that we were to be mentioned in its report.

I conclude by quoting from our greatest Prime Minister ever, Sir Winston Churchill:

“Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.”—[Official Report, 13 October 1943; Vol. 392, c. 923.]

Sir Winston was right.

Order. If hon. Members are going to refer to somebody who is not in the debate, it is probably a good idea for them to say, “and by the way, I have notified them,” so that I do not have to keep interrupting.

Again, may I remind hon. Members that they cannot refer to other Members by name? But I can, so I call Sir Michael Fabricant.

One thing on which I think we can all agree is that we do not envy those people who had to serve on the Privileges Committee. A lot of us on both sides of the House received emails some time ago from 38 Degrees, but apparently that was nothing compared with the number of emails that particularly my Conservative colleagues on the Committee received: a colleague who is no longer in his place told me that he received something like 600 emails. That really is completely unacceptable.

It is wrong to try to interfere with the Privileges Committee, just as it is wrong to interfere with the Standards Committee or indeed with any other Committee of the House, whether that be the Transport Committee, the Committee of Selection—the best Committee of all—or the Administration Committee. That in itself is a breach of privilege, but as colleagues have said, it is also a breach of privilege not to allow Members of Parliament to speak out.

In a moment. Part of the argument presented for the motion is that there was some sort of collusion going on. I know what drove me to make my comments, which I shall read out in full, as the Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), did not. I will shortly explain what provoked me to make them. The point is that many of the comments that people made were spontaneous and driven by events. I will explain why, because I see doubt on the face of the right hon. and learned Lady, but let me first give way to the Father of the House.

In the form letter, of which 600 copies were sent to our colleagues on the Privileges Committee—for those who are following the debate, it is on page 11 of the report—colleagues were implored to

“protect your own integrity by rejecting this committee”.

The letter ended with a call for them to

“protect your integrity by resigning from this committee”.

I agree with my hon. Friend that those words were unacceptable. They should not have been said while the Committee was holding hearings. Other things, perhaps, should not have been said either.

I certainly agree that it is completely unacceptable to say:

“We urge you to take action and protect your integrity by resigning from this committee immediately.”

Incidentally, if hon. Members received 600 emails just like that, with hardly any change in the wording, I hope that those emails ended up where many of the identical emails we get end up, which is in the bin. That is what they deserve.

But this Committee was particularly difficult. I think it is fair to say that there is nobody in this land who does not have a view, one way or another, about Boris Johnson; I think possibly Margaret Thatcher is the only other person to have fallen into that category. It is perfectly human. Whether someone is a judge in the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court, or whether they sit in a quasi-judicial role, they are bound to have views. I totally accept that members of the Committee will try hard, often with success, to put those views in the background while trying to make a fair and decent judgment.

So why did I say what I said? I will read it out in full:

“Serious questions will need to be asked about the manner in which the investigation was conducted”—

I was talking about procedure.

“These were no jurists as was apparent by the tone of the examination. The question of calibre, malice and prejudice will need to be answered now or by historians.”

I think people will ask these questions, and they may well exonerate the Committee. They may well say that there was no malice or prejudice and that the calibre was excellent, but I think it is fair to pose the questions.

The next question one might ask is why I tweeted those questions at that time. Well, I attended the hearing at which Boris Johnson gave his evidence, and I was there for the whole period. When he gave his evidence, the Committee had a quasi-judicial role. He had to raise his right hand and swear an oath, and he did. Some of the Committee’s members—I will not single out any individuals because some of them are very close friends of mine—behaved with absolute dignity and professionalism, but one turned his back on Boris Johnson as he gave evidence, another gasped in frustration and two looked heavenwards, as if to accuse him of being a liar. If it were a court of law, and we have heard that it was not, the judge would have called the jury to order.

Of course it was not a court of law, but when a witness comes along and swears the oath and a group of individuals give judgment, I would call it a court of law. I simply make the point that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. Certainly on the day the evidence was given, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham pulled one of her faces, as she has just now. It is not in order to do that when taking evidence in a quasi-judicial role.

I simply suggest that members of a Committee sitting in a quasi-judicial role, whether it be the Privileges Committee, the Standards Committee or a hybrid Bill Committee, such as the High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Committee, are not all professional lawyers. Many of them are not. There is a very strong argument that they should be trained in how to take evidence when sitting in a quasi-judicial role, not just so that it is fair—it could be argued that it was not fair—but because, as I said earlier, justice needs to be seen to be done.

Most journalists who were present, as I was, did not feel on that day that justice was seen to be done. The Committee may well have come to the right conclusions. I did not vote against the Committee’s original conclusions —I personally thought the sentence was a little vindictive, but I certainly was not going to vote against the main findings—but it is important that a Committee sitting in a quasi-judicial role is seen to be acting in a fair and proper way.

Was there collusion in the timing of my tweet? No, there was not. It was provoked by the behaviour of the Committee when it took evidence from Boris Johnson, and I still stand by my comment. I will say that if, because I sent that tweet during the hearing, it intimidated any member of the Committee in any way, and if they thought I had acted to put pressure on them, I apologise.

I do not think for one moment that I intimidated my hon. Friend, in any way, with my comment, but if I had—I use the subjunctive, not the indicative—of course I apologise because that would have been a breach of privilege, as we should not interfere with the proceedings of any Committee.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. The report, with its annex, highlights a sample of some of the tweets. I note that he tweeted on 31 July 2022:

“Harriet Harman determined to ‘stitch up’ #Boris by changing rules of Privilege Committee kangaroo court.”

Does he now accept that referring to the Privileges Committee as a “kangaroo court” is wrong?

I now regret giving way to my hon. Friend. I do not remember that tweet, but the answer is yes, I do.

My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to say that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant)—I say “Rhondda” correctly because I speak Welsh—had the integrity to stand down after the tweets he sent. Of course, it is fair to say that the House of Commons approved the appointment of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham as Chair of the Privileges Committee, but I wonder whether on reflection, given the comments she had made publicly, she might have said, “No, it is not appropriate for me to chair the Committee,” just as the hon. Member for Rhondda had.

I think I have now spoken enough. I believe the Committee attempts to behave with integrity, and I think it does behave with integrity. Whether it behaved without expressing some sort of prejudice beforehand is a moot point. Whether it was able to ignore prejudice is an interesting question, and one that historians may well ask in the future.

I have said nothing on this matter until today, as I did not consider that I had a right to do so because I was a member of the Privileges Committee for only a brief time. I was formally replaced by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker), who is now in his place, in September 2022, before the substance of the investigation into Boris Johnson began.

I want to highlight some of the comments that were made during the period in which I was a member of the Committee, and I feel impelled to do so because I consider that the issues go to the heart of how we choose to regulate ourselves as Members of Parliament and of the treatment we are willing to tolerate of those Members who put themselves forward to assist in the proper functioning of this House.

As the report points out, the work of the Privileges Committee is “crucial to our democracy” because the functioning of Parliament and the way we discharge our obligations to those we represent depend on Ministers being truthful in what they say at the Dispatch Box.

I was asked to become a member of the Committee in or around April 2022 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), who was then Deputy Chief Whip. I had expressed no interest in joining the Committee, and I do not say that to be critical —it is just a fact. It is not something I had previously considered or wanted to do. I know the same applies to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who was asked to chair the Committee by her party’s Whips after the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) recused himself. The Chair had to be a Labour MP under the Standing Order, and it had to be someone of sufficient seniority, so the Mother of the House was an obvious candidate. She had expressed no previous interest, but she accepted the request. I make it clear that I am mounting no criticism of either Government or Opposition Whips, who play an important role in the smooth operation of Parliament. It was incumbent on them to find Members for this difficult and sensitive task. The Mother of the House’s appointment was not just the choice of the Opposition Whips; it was approved by the Whips on our side—I remember the discussion about it. I know that the Mother of the House drew the attention of our Whips to the tweet that she had written, and again this was approved. Ultimately, both our memberships were approved by the whole House, because the motion passed without Division.

To contextualise the appointment of the Mother of the House, I want to say on her behalf that she had already announced her intention to retire from Parliament at the next election. Her parliamentary career has spanned five decades and has been defined, probably more so than that of any other person who has ever sat in this House, by her commitment to the advancement of women’s rights. Fourteen weeks before she took up that appointment, her husband of 40 years, Jack, had died. Against that background, I invite Members to consider what is more likely: that she agreed to chair the Committee as a final act of service to this House or that she did so because she was interested in pursuing a personal vendetta against Boris Johnson?

I want to make reference to three tweets written by Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park—he is named in the report and I have given notice to his office that I intend to do so. Two were written while I was a member of the Committee, on 23 July and 7 August 2022, and one is a retweet, referred to in the report, on 9 June 2023. The first two were written at a time when the Committee had done no substantive work; the only thing it had done was make a request for disclosure to No. 10 Downing Street. He wrote:

“The Partygate probe is clearly rigged.

It is a jury comprised of highly partisan, vengeful & vindictive MPs, nearly all of whom are already on the record viciously attacking the person they are judging. It is an obscene abuse of power.”

Another said:

“Anyone who has any experience of MPs knows you cannot trust them to judge their peers except through the lens of their own ambition & prejudices. It’s why this system is so open to corruption.”

It is completely unacceptable to allege or insinuate that members of the Privileges Committee are corrupt or that the inquiry was somehow rigged. The report uses the nomenclature of “contempt”, but with the word “corrupt” one could also argue that it is libellous. It has been repeatedly overlooked that a number of the Conservative members of the Committee, including my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South (Andy Carter), for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) and for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), had already undertaken a disciplinary inquiry into Boris Johnson in July 2021 on a completely separate matter. They had been asked to consider whether his holiday in Mustique had been properly declared; they could have found against him, but in fact they found in his favour. So there was no principled reason for Lord Goldsmith’s attack, no empirical basis for contending that the Committee could not have found in Boris Johnson’s favour, because on a previous occasion it already had. At all times, it would have been open to Members of this House to vote against the Committee’s final recommendations, had they disagreed. I cannot avoid the conclusion that the tweets were designed to pressurise the members of the Committee and undermine their work—I say that as someone who, in the end, did not hear the inquiry into Boris Johnson.

However, I think that the conduct of Lord Goldsmith manifestly fell below the standard acceptable for any Member of the upper House, let alone a Minister of his Majesty’s Government. I hope you will forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I add that I found the environmental pretext that was advanced to justify his resignation somewhat unconvincing, in circumstances where his nose had clearly been put out of joint after he was asked only hours earlier to apologise.

It is a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris). Not for the first time, she has spoken with great integrity on an issue and opened my eyes to a slightly different point of view, and I am very grateful to her. May I echo her thanks to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the Chair of the Committee? Let me take her back to 2010, when I joined the House for the first time and she gave the new Members’ speech. She spoke of what a great privilege it is to be in this House and of its great standards. I recall those messages even now, 13 years later. I would like to disassociate myself from the comments of people here who would in any way wish to impugn her integrity, in this role or in any other while she has been in this House.

I have made it a rule not to participate in any of the somewhat introspective debates on privileges or standards to date, and I will probably wish that I had maintained that record by the end of these remarks. I am not a lawyer. I have not read, and have no desire to read, “Erskine May”. I am just a Member of Parliament and so I have to find my way along as we manage these rules. It is in that context that I hope Members of the House will listen to me.

I was inspired by the opening comments of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. In her well-chosen words, she summarised where the House as a whole—perhaps not everyone—is on this. As the shadow Leader of the House is now back in her place, may I mention that I was a bit in despair about her comments? I feel they opened her up to people having a perception, which she perhaps did not wish to convey, that there was some partisan benefit from those comments and that this was a party political issue and not in the round a matter for all MPs, regardless of their party. I will mention that again in a minute. I thank all members of the Committee. As has been said, being on it is not an easy appointment.

No, not yet; I may come back to my hon. Friend.

As a regular MP, for me, and I think for many, the habit or custom is that we accept standards or privileges reports in this House without contention. I feel that because I do not see all the evidence. I was not in there for the discussion, so I have to rely upon the good integrity of our colleagues who were. Therefore, it is rare that I would vote against; I broke a three-line Whip on Owen Paterson and I know that some colleagues in the House today did likewise. I had to swallow a lot of disagreement with the report on our former Prime Minister and vote for the report on Boris Johnson. To take the shadow Leader of the House back to this, it concerns me—it is a suspicion; I do not know this for a fact—that, on the last vote on Boris Johnson, a vote was engineered on the report and there was not a willingness for there to be a debate. May I caution hon. Members? I think that today’s sentiment is that we are going to have a good talk about this—we will agree and disagree—but there is not much willingness for us to engineer or to have a vote. We should look poorly upon any Member of this House who seeks to engineer a vote for partisan reasons.

Let me explain the depth of my concern about that. I wish to support all of what the Privileges Committee and the Standards Committee say—it is very important that we do that. However, we have increased the level of sanction available to those Committees, given the changes that were put through this House about eight or nine years ago on voter recall. We are giving those Committees not just the ability to judge our behaviour, but the sanction to remove someone from the House. That is another concern as to why we should not allow these processes to fall into partisan issues.

I am still confused—if I am honest, because I am not a lawyer—about the difference between interfering and opining, and about the definition of “impugning the integrity”. We say, “You know it when you see it; it has that sense that you sort of know.” So we have a self-regulating observation. My concern is that decisions on whether the Committee has been impugned are made by the Committee itself. It would decide whether it felt it had been impugned and then make that recommendation to us as a House of Commons to advise whether we agreed with it or not. However, if our habit is ordinarily to agree with the report, there is really no way to work out whether someone has been impugned or not. As may have been said in this House already, if we look through some of the specific examples—I understand that there are others—we see that some may not fit everyone’s definition of “impugning integrity”. Both in the phrasing and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright) said, in the fact that it does not accord in respect of the Standards Committee and the way it is interpreted, there are major issues with that part of this.

The hon. Member is making a good point about the point at which what one person says impugns someone else. Does he agree that a good guide is often the harm principle? All of us in this place support completely, I think, the concept and the actuality of freedom of speech, but when that harms or is unfair to others, it has to be regarded as unacceptable in its effect. The freedom of speech to criticise the Committee to the point where that undermines the Committee, this House and, by its nature, democracy is unacceptable.

The hon. Lady makes a fair point, although I have two contentions with it. First, on the specifics, the point I was making is that the determination of whether that constitutes harm is put in a report by the people concerned, which then comes back here for us to support, so there is very little review. Secondly, an interesting underlying issue is that we are living through a period when harm is being interpreted differently. The way that people who are much younger than me appreciate how harm is done is different. The amount they are prepared to take on themselves—rather than to say, “Well, that’s just the way the world is,” and not to see it as harm—is much less than it was in my day. That might be a good thing or a bad thing, but it is different for different generations. That is another aspect of how to assess what is harmful, and we are going through such a fluid period that it is difficult.

But the hon. Lady is right: ultimately, I think we would agree, the message today, at the core of this, is to use temperate language. When I came back to the House in 2019, one thing I noticed was how much more coarse political discourse had become in just the two-year period that I was away. It was not just because of the divisions over Brexit or social media; it was also because we were tolerating it. We have a responsibility in this House to oppose that. That is why it is good when we talk across the divide in this House and find agreement, and why that Committee, in cross-party agreement among individuals, was something that we could rely on. The lesson is about using temperate language.

I share the concerns of my colleagues about some of the recommendations. Not only are they difficult to see working in practice, but there will be chilling effects on free speech. We will have to see whether that is the case. I am not defending what was said; I just worry that someone like me, who does not know the law or “Erskine May”, will feel that there are certain things that I may not be able to say, but which perhaps in the past I was —although there are perhaps ways to give reassurances on that.

Does my hon. Friend not believe that there has already been a chilling effect? When we debated the fifth Privileges Committee report, some colleagues were too scared to come here and speak, because they were put under threat by other Members of the House. I was one of only four who dared to come out and express a different opinion, and ensure that we had a rounded debate.

I hear what my hon. Friend has said. I do not know whether people would say that, but that should clearly not happen in this House. All Members should have the right, and the willingness, to speak without fear or favour. But when I protest about that, I should equally defend that right for members of the Committee. They should be able to look at the issues that they wish to review without fear or favour.

My concern with the motion is that it is perhaps a little too overreaching in what it seeks to do, and is not well structured in its solution and remedies. It has opened up questions that probably need further investigation by other Committees, so that we can achieve something that ultimately provides all Members of this House with clarity on how they should behave and communicate with one another.

At the closing stages of what has already been a very long debate, one thing has emerged very clearly: it is a thankless task indeed to be involved in issues of this sort.

I would like to congratulate speakers on both sides of the argument—not necessarily both sides of the House—for the contributions they have made, most notably those who have made the point that they have friends on both sides of the argument. That is true of me as well. If I were to single out two particular speeches on opposite sides of the argument, I would first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on giving a masterclass in how to defuse a very fraught and serious subject with good humour while still making his case lucidly. I would also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) for her excellent focus on the heart of the matter, which is to ask the question: is anyone seriously suggesting that the seven members of the Committee, who went through this exhaustive process, were blinded by hatred and bias?

I have been in the House since 1997, and I hope, with luck, to carry on a little bit longer. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) is in his last Parliament, and I have known him very well since he came in in 2005. I challenge anybody who knows my hon. Friend at all well to believe for one moment that he would allow himself to be blinded by prejudice and bias in an inquiry of this sort. It is inconceivable.

There is a tendency in controversial areas such as this never to know when to stop. I remember having an argument with the then Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg), from whom we heard at length this afternoon, in the run-up to the debate about Owen Paterson. At that time, the Privileges Committee had produced a report with a very strong sanction. I had been shocked that that process had continued after Owen Paterson’s wife had committed suicide. My argument was to suggest to the then Leader of the House and the people in my party that it would be sensible to note the Privileges report, but to decide on compassionate grounds to take no further action. That lost out to an alternative policy and we all know where that led. It did not lead anywhere any good for Owen Paterson himself, the Government of the day or the reputation of this House. It was a case of not knowing when to stop.

I came to the debate this afternoon fully expecting that the Opposition might move an amendment arguing for sanctions against the seven people who were named in an appendix to the report. Had that been put to a Division, I would have voted against it; and had it nevertheless been agreed and had there been a Division on the amended motion, I would have voted against that as well. In my opinion, the Speaker was very wise not to select any of the amendments, on either side of the argument.

The one argument that I have heard against the way in which the Committee has conducted itself that carries any weight with me is this: I think it was unwise to name specific Members in an appendix, when all that the appendix did was give samples, as we have heard, of the sort of extreme criticism bordering on, and perhaps constituting, abuse to which the Committee was being subjected. The Committee would have been wiser to anonymise those quotes. It could have made the point just as effectively without then giving reason to people to feel—with some justification, I think—that they should at least have been informed that they were going to be named. I know the Committee will say, “Well, they’ve had their chance today to set their comments in context,” and some of them have done so.

Nevertheless, there is one other key point, with which I will conclude, that lies at the heart of the matter. When Members engage with a process that is going to judge them in some way, or at least make recommendations as to how they should be judged, which the House of Commons will then decide whether or not to agree with, and when Members accept that process, then they really ought to accept the result; otherwise, they should not have engaged with the process in the first place.

I close with an example of that, which I have asked my parliamentary researcher’s permission to mention. My parliamentary researcher is a lady called Nina Karsov. As an infant, she survived the holocaust. In 1967 she was put on trial in Poland for keeping an anti-communist political diary. She refused to engage with the court because she did not recognise its legitimacy. She knew what that would cost her: she spent two years of a three-year sentence in a Polish jail, until Amnesty International made her prisoner of the year, which helped get her released and brought to this country.

The fact is that if you are not prepared to accept the verdict of the umpire, don’t play cricket. I am getting increasingly fed up with the brutalisation of language in discussions of this sort, but I have limited sympathy for those people who get into trouble because of tweets and emails. If they open themselves up to that sort of thing, that is precisely what they should expect.

It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis), who made a powerful speech. I am delighted to be called to speak in this extremely important debate. For me, the debate is about respect for this House, its decisions, its processes and its Committees. I have an awful lot to cover so, with due respect to the House and to hon. Members, I will not take any interventions.

In the early morning of 13 December 2019, I and just over 100 ordinary people on the Government Benches, and a few on the Opposition Benches, were, in the majority of cases, taken from our ordinary lives and ordered, with two days’ notice, to report to Westminster. I remember being completely overawed, but above all the emotions I felt there were two overwhelming feelings: those of duty and respect—respect for this place, the institutions of Parliament, the legacy and the unyielding burden of responsibility to uphold the finest traditions of public service.

Some will say, quite reasonably, that I have failed to live up to those traditions; others will disagree—I will speak more about that later. But suffice it to say, I felt a huge weight of expectation to serve the community in which I grew up, which had done me the honour of sending me to this place to speak on its behalf. I still feel that today. I do not make all the right decisions—Mr Deputy Speaker, I defy you to show me anyone who does—but I try my very best to do as good a job as I can, to help as many people as I can, and, within those efforts, I am able to make some amends for any mistakes that I may have made and to work in the best traditions of this House.

During my time here, I have met some amazing people. One of the first people I met, in the Park Plaza, where we were all initially encamped, was the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), who is a remarkable man—I consider him a friend and hope he would return the sentiment. I do not think it will come as a surprise to anyone to know that he has a particular style and turn of phrase that do not always land well with some people. It might be because he tells the unvarnished truth about things, but he gets abused by certain elements of the media and Members of the Opposition for his opinions and views, and he is shouted at across the Chamber every time he gets to his feet. Many Members have talked today about the lack of respect that we sometimes have for each other, and there is a lack of respect for him, as an elected MP, who, if I am any judge, will be the hon. Member for Ashfield long after most of the occupants of these Benches have been sent on their way.

I have met some lifelong friends here. I have also met some people who, quite frankly, I would never get tired of seeing locked in a set of stocks and pelted with rotten vegetables. Not all the friends are on the Government Benches, and not all the stocks-worthy individuals are on the Opposition Benches. Regardless of any personal feelings I may have for anyone, the most important thing has been to treat people in this place with respect, at the very least until they have proven that they deserve no such consideration.

The first day I reported for duty here, I was struck by the things that most normal people would probably feel: the history and the thought of all the people who have walked these halls before us—the giants of British politics. I hoped that my colleagues and I would all be able to live up to their legacies, as we tried our best to shape the future for our country.

Sad as some people found it, I tried my best to become an expert on procedure—well, as much of an expert as I could anyway. It was nothing like the amazing depth of knowledge that the House and Committee Clerks demonstrate on a daily basis, but enough that I did not make any foolish mistakes, say the wrong thing in the wrong place or do anything to embarrass myself, my party or, most importantly, the House. I am a firm believer that this place is amazing. It is special and should be respected and defended by every Member until we are no longer Members, and even afterwards.

Those closest to me have told me, at various times over the past couple of years, to walk away when the arduous nature of the job was becoming too much. “Get out of that toxic place,” they said. We have heard Members recently say that they will not be standing in the next election, some of them using those very words. But it is not true. This is not a toxic place; it is an amazing place full of history, majesty, responsibility and duty. Sadly, it is made toxic by some of its inhabitants and by the constant “politicians versus the people” narrative, which rains down on the public from every possible news media outlet. Some of those outlets are on the right and some are on the left, but they are all consistent in their position that politicians, of whatever political affiliation, are not to be trusted. I believe that one of the most damaging things currently in our society is the constant drive by the media to try to make politicians the enemies of the people.

Just this weekend, I saw one prominent newspaper declaring significant conflicts of interests because MPs hold huge shareholdings in particular companies. Some of the shareholdings were part of a blind trust that the beneficiaries had no means of controlling or even knowing about. Some of the shareholdings were huge sums, such as £2.69 in Sainsbury’s shares, or a holding of £4.36 in Lloyds Banking Group. Some of the more notable amounts were accentuated by an asterisk, denoting shares held by a close family member, as if being related to an MP means that people are somehow barred from investing their money. It was just another example of the attempts by certain sections of the media to paint us all as the enemy, in the hope that the mere hint of impropriety and an inflammatory headline will be enough for clicks.

It is no longer about selling papers; it is about clicks. Imagine the disappointment of the reader who clicked on the salacious headline

“Exclusive. Shares held ‘in secret’ by scores of MPs raise questions about vested interests”,

only to read that an hon. Member has £4.82 invested with NatWest. It is another headline and another nail in the coffin, promoting the narrative that the people who come to work in this place are always trying to pull a fast one, worthy of disdain and there to be abused. In my very limited experience, the reality is that the vast majority of people come to this House to do good things. They work damned hard and, in the main, do an excellent job as Members of Parliament, in what have been, over the past couple of years, some of the most trying times in modern British political history.

But some things that have happened over the past few months have left me sad. I am a traditionalist and I believe that things like respect for the House and its processes matter. Without that, this place loses some of its legitimacy and, in the environment that I just described, where there is a constant search for reasons to write negatively about us and this place, we do not need to commit these acts of internal damage as well. There are enough people out there willing and eager to tear us down, so let us not do it to ourselves as well.

On 21 April 2022, the House debated for about five hours a motion to open an inquiry of the Committee of Privileges into whether the conduct of the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, amounted to a contempt of the House. At the end of the debate, the motion was put and carried with no dissenting voices. Following the withdrawal by the previous Chair from chairing the inquiry, the appointment of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) was tabled by the Government and approved by the whole House in June 2022, with no dissenting voices—quite rightly. I will not restate the contents of this special report, but I have listened carefully to the arguments made on both sides.

The argument for freedom of speech is powerful indeed. We live in a society in which freedom of speech is absolutely crucial, especially in this place. Parliamentarians must be allowed to say what they want to say without the fear of reprisal—and we can in this place. There is a reason that parliamentary privilege does not extend past those doors—it is because it is a privilege. Freedom of speech is an important right, but it is not an absolute right. With freedom comes responsibility, and in this type of situation, having established the inquiry without dissent, appointed the Chair without dissent, and appointed the Committee members without dissent, Members have then lost the right to criticise later. It is the same principle as when I was a member of the general public a few years ago.

When debating an issue of politics, I would ask someone, “How did you vote in the last election?” They would say, “I didn’t bother to vote.” My reaction was, “Well, you don’t get to criticise, then.” The same holds true here. Members had the opportunity to voice their concerns and object and they did not. It should not then be open to Members to impugn the reputation of the Committee, of the people who have been chosen to serve. They were put in place to do a job. There were seven members: four Conservatives; two from Labour; and one from the SNP. They included: the longest-serving female MP in the House and a King’s Counsel; two members who have been awarded knighthoods for their long and meritorious service to this place; and one who is a distinguished magistrate and an impartial upholder of the law. I am sure the others are equally noteworthy, but I do not know them so well.

I feel almost uniquely placed to comment on this subject, as I have been investigated, found to have transgressed, and sanctioned by a process of this House. Yet, out of respect for this place, I have remained silent. In May 2021, I was found to have broken the House’s sexual misconduct policy, following a lengthy investigation, and was suspended from the service of the House. I believed at the time that the judgment was wrong. That remains my belief. I have been told a number of times that I cannot say anything about the situation that deviates from that report, which I believe to be in error. Out of respect for the House and its processes, and at significant personal cost, I have said nothing, so as not to bring myself, the process or the House into disrepute. I feel comfortable in saying only that I believe it to be in error as this is relatively self-evident, given that I appealed the decision in the first place. Other than saying that the judgment was wrong, I make no further comment on the situation, out of respect for the processes of this House.

When I subsequently received death threats and demands for an explanation, I said nothing, out of respect for the processes of this House. When people who I thought were friends in this place averted their eyes or turned away when I bumped into them in the corridor and said hello, I said nothing, out of respect for the processes of this House. When my own party abandoned me and lied to my face just at the point I was most in need of their help, I said nothing, out of respect for the processes of this House.

When week after week, the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), stood at the Dispatch Box and called for me to resign, I said nothing out of respect for the House. When I received an email to say that she was going to refer to me again at the Dispatch Box on 8 July 2021, a time when I was at my lowest point and in need of assistance, I replied to that email. I respectfully asked her not to raise my situation again almost two months down the line as I had served my sanction, and continually raising the point at every turn in order to inflame the situation was having an extremely detrimental effect on my mental health. She ignored my request and brought it up anyway, as well as several more times, with the knowledge that it was causing significant distress. Had this been the case anywhere other than in this Chamber, it would quite rightly have easily fitted the criteria of the House’s definition of bullying, but, in this Chamber, she got a free pass. I said nothing, only out of respect for the processes of this House.

When, at one particularly low point, I found myself balanced on the handrail of Westminster Bridge, I found the will to step backwards instead of forwards and to seek help. A good friend from these Benches intervened and I am in his debt. I have been in counselling for more than a year. It is probably a good point to mention the amazing Parliamentary Health and Wellbeing team, and one individual on that team in particular, without whom I would be in a very different place. We have discussed so many aspects of my life and the events of the past couple of years. The therapy relationship is a little bit like a confession. It was in a private room where I could say what I wanted and unburden myself of the difficulties that I was facing—things that I could not say anywhere else. I had so much to say, but, publicly, I said nothing out of respect for the processes of this House. When I stood up to ask a question at Prime Minister’s questions, with friends in the Public Gallery, a member of the Labour Front Bench shouted, “You can sit the eff down”, I said nothing out of respect for the processes of this House.

It continues, Mr Deputy Speaker. There are major local events that I have been fighting against in my constituency—they are nationally significant and newsworthy issues. BBC Wales refuses to interview me about them, because I have always refused to go on the record and talk about my case. It means that I am not as able as I otherwise would be to represent the views of my communities on this important matter, but I will not talk about it, out of respect for the processes of this House.

If, after all that, I can get through my days and do my job to the best of my abilities without speaking out and without undermining the processes of this House on something that has personally affected me so profoundly, I find it really difficult to take when others, particularly those who have historically stood in this place and purported to champion the best traditions of the House, undermine it, discredit it and abuse it.

I draw my remarks to an end. I wrote a personal, handwritten note to every member of the Committee recently to thank them for their service in extremely difficult circumstances. I thank them again verbally now. I hope that they are not still suffering any after effects stemming from that service, and I hope that hon. and right hon. Members from all parts of the House reflect on this hopefully concluding melodrama and consider that this House, its Committees and the whole institute of Parliament are deserving of a lot more respect than they are currently receiving.

I start by agreeing with my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) in relation to his comments on my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker), who is currently not in his place. I have to agree that he is one of the kindest, finest and fairest Members in this place, and we should be so pleased that he has served on this important Committee.

I was not going to speak today, but, at the weekend, I spoke to constituents about the weighty matters before the House today. They said to me that, as the Member for Dover and Deal, I should speak up. That is because our white cliffs stand for freedom—freedom of expression, democracy, and our fundamental British values. They said to me that they felt that this House had lost its way. They said that the very idea that a Member of Parliament could be gagged or censured for saying what they thought on a matter was the type of thing that could happen in Russia or Beijing; it is not something that they thought could ever happen here. That tells me that my constituents think that this Committee has overreached itself. The implications of such overreach can only be toxic to our democracy. That reminded me that whether or not it is my wish to speak today, it is certainly my duty to stand here and say that what is happening is wrong and unconstitutional.

The hon. Lady reminds me of something I learned as a very young reporter—that the Members of this place have the very rare privilege of having absolute privilege over what they say, in this place. As an older journalist, I had the honour of teaching that to younger journalists, who respect the fact that we have absolute privilege over what we say. Would she not agree that we should respect that and that it if we abuse it, that is unacceptable? That is what we are discussing here today—the fact that hon. Members have abused the absolute privilege that they have and undermined the processes of the House.

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention; abuse of privilege is something I will be addressing very shortly.

The Privileges Committee and the Standards Committee are Select Committees of this House. That is the constitutional position, and I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), the Chair of the Procedure Committee, for setting out the position of the Committee so clearly earlier. I thank her for that.

As every Member knows, the Select Committees are a political construct. They are political in their nature and they come to political decisions. Debates and votes in this Chamber are political—because that is what we do. We are politicians. That is what we are sent here to do. The job of a politician has no professional standing or qualification, neither is it a trade. It has a no entry requirement—not even maths or English GCSE—because we are the Commons. We are the most base and broad range of people, from all walks of life and all types of characters. From the very charismatic to the downright dull, all can stand, and the people decide whether or not they want us to represent them and their interests. That is what it means to be a Member of Parliament.

Make no mistake: today’s decision, like any other Select Committee report or recommendation that is brought to this House for us to decide, is political, and the vote at the end of this debate will be political too. Should the motion be pressed to a vote, we will see all of the Opposition together in the same Lobby—the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and Labour—and we should have no illusion about the politics going on here, as we have heard in the opening remarks of those on the Opposition Front Benches.

To be a politician, at its very core, is to debate, to explain, to agree or to disagree. That is what we are elected to do. We are not elected to sit in some sort of pretend court of law. As has been found throughout history, when the Commons goes down the route of censuring or expelling Members for partisan political purposes, it invariably damages Parliament itself.

I will point to a very famous example of that, the Middlesex by-election fiasco that saw the repeated expulsion of John Wilkes, against the will of the people, who kept voting him in. Let me remind the House what the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” has to say on the subject:

“Wilkes was finally expelled on inconclusive precedents and by a method undoubtedly fraught with danger to the constitution since it set aside in the name of parliamentary privilege the right of the elector to choose his representative”.

There is a concern that what is happening with the current Privileges and Standards Committees is not just overriding the right of the electorate to choose their representatives, but, chillingly, limiting what that Member can say.

It has been said on several occasions during this debate that the Privileges Committee is a properly democratically constituted Committee of the House, so let me address that. First, it is not. It is one of the very few Committees of this House whose Chair has not been selected by contested or secret ballot and whose members are not voted on by each party in the usual way, following the Wright Committee reforms. As such, I feel that this Committee has less legitimacy and democratic accountability than other Select Committees, not more.

The Committee should be reformed. It is a time for reform of how it is selected and how it operates, so that it can have the same legitimacy and democratic accountability as other Select Committees enjoy, following the Wright reforms. That reform work is incomplete and we are seeing its failings through problems of due process and otherwise.

Secondly, let me address the issue of questioning and debate. If anybody criticised the work of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, on which I sit, I would not be seeking to censure, name and shame, or even expel them from the House; I would debate them, because it is a political report and it is a matter of political debate. Open political debate is a fundamental British value and fundamental to our way of life and democracy.

Thirdly, I turn to the issue of accountability—or lack of accountability. In this place, we have two Select Committees, the Privileges and Standards Committees, as well as the internal grievance process, all of which have had raised fundamental flaws in natural justice, due process or bias. Without the ability to challenge injustices, with the reports going through on the nod, as some Members seem to prefer, these Committees could continue unchallenged and unchanged. That surely cannot be what any of us would want.

The issue of accountability is particularly important, because the work of this Committee directly affects the representation of the people. As such, it must be open to being held more accountable than other Select Committees, and not seek to be less accountable than it should be.

Finally, let me address the responsibility that each of us in this House has for our how behaviour and leadership affects other people. This issue matters more widely, because how we lead, or mislead, in this place is followed by companies and organisations across the country. Failures or perceived failures to follow natural justice or due process, acting with bias or punishing by using sweeper clauses on disrepute or reputational matters, give the green light to big businesses and other private sector employers to do likewise.

Up and down the land, people are losing their jobs, their reputations and their savings, and sometimes their families and homes, because of a lack of natural justice, due process, fairness or impartiality in their workplaces, where big businesses and organisations simply abuse their power to achieve the end that they wanted all along. They think it is okay and that they are unaccountable, and they may even think that they are following the example of this place. I say this to the House in conclusion: it is not okay and it can never be acceptable. It does not just happen within this place.

What happens in this place ripples out, so that other people in other walks of life— our constituents—may not get a fair hearing, due process or fair treatment, or may be gagged from speaking up for themselves in the face of grave injustices in their lives and workplaces. I was elected here to defend those constituents and to defend our British values, and that is how I will exercise my political and democratic vote today, to vote against this report.

As has been expressed already, people may have many views on Boris Johnson, but what we are here to discuss is the special report. For me, this is about the sense of disappointment that I felt at not having the opportunity to see or comment on the report in advance, or to clarify, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) and others have clearly said. That is an opportunity we would have welcomed, so to find out from the media before the report was published was very disappointing.

Of course, many also use that as a criticism of the previous report: while it may have run to 30,000 words, many of us felt we had already read them on Twitter. Where that has come from we do not know and we cannot say for sure, but it is disappointing that these things leak out, as it is with any business that should be brought before this House first. Of course, as has been mentioned, many Members are not included in the annex. There have been many comments on the make-up of the Committee, the outcome and the processes. People even suggested that the result would be some Conservative stitch-up for Boris Johnson because there is a Conservative majority on the Committee. It has worked both ways. Many accusations will fly around, but many of them will not be true.

One issue I take with the report is its methodology. Seven people here have been chosen, and we are all Brexiteers or vocal supporters of the former Prime Minister. How was that conclusion reached, and how was the annex formed? I think that we have a little more information on how that could be a sample. I welcome that, because it is important that we clarify it. Some of us wonder whether it was done based on the number of complaints, for example. Some of us made interesting comments on social media and perhaps attracted more complaints than others.

Let us remember that we have been through an unprecedented situation. Those are the circumstances we all found ourselves in and why we are here today. We saw the removal of a Prime Minister with a large majority. He was subject to an inquiry, then a sanction was recommended that ultimately led to his resignation as a Member of this House, and his parliamentary pass was taken from him. Those were unprecedented steps to take against a former Prime Minister.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, we are here to debate the report, and I do not want to diverge too much from that, but many have compared the situation to a court of law. As has rightly been said, many have expectations of natural justice on this, but the Privileges Committee is a Committee of the House, not a court. Parliamentary sovereignty is paramount—although I always make the point that the people are truly sovereign in this country—but it is still important that the process is seen to be fair, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) said so eloquently and far more entertainingly earlier.

Let me go through some of the comments by Members outlined in the annex. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield said that:

“questions will need to be asked”.

My hon. Friend the Member for Workington said:

“When the witch hunt has been forgotten, future generations will look back in astonishment.”

At no point does that comment mention the Committee itself or its individual members. Similarly, although I may have made rather robust comments myself, I did not speak about Committee members specifically, and I just want to clear that up.

Likewise, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) commented. One comment of hers that was included in the annex was from 15 June at 10.44 am, nearly two hours after the report was released. The report states that Members are free to make whatever comments they wish once the report is final, so why has that comment been referred to in the annex?

Many of us take issue with the annex. I think that we can appreciate the points that are made in the report. Some of us, myself included, would have preferred the whole matter not to have been referred to the Committee in the first place. That is not, of course, the fault of the Committee members themselves. As I have stated on numerous occasions and in many media interviews, I fully respect the job that they had to do. It was important that they be left to get on with it. I also did not comment specifically on the report until it was published, but my constituents would expect me to question it and to scrutinise the events leading up to it.

At this point, I thank the members of the Committee. Theirs was a thankless task, and whatever decision they came to—be it on this or any other matter—they simply could not win. I thank them for their service in delivering the report, and even though I do not agree with its conclusions or the sanctions, I respect the fact that they were in that position. I urge others outside the House to do the same. I hope that we can bring the matter to a close after this evening.

Any comments that I made with regard to the resignation of the former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip were related to comments that he made in his statement, not to the full report itself. I want to clarify that. I did not, of course, have a copy of the report until it was released. At that point, we were free to comment on it. That relates to my tweet of 9 June, which is mentioned in the annex to the special report.

I believe that it was our responsibility as parliamentarians to read and respond to the original report. I have been honoured to be a member of numerous Select Committees in my time, and I would expect to do the same for any such report when it is published, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) said. I believe that effective scrutiny is one of the great strengths of this institution. I would not want that to change. The report itself states that its conclusions were not influenced and no intimidation occurred.

On the importance of scrutiny by Members, I hope the House will excuse me if I paraphrase the great quote from “Gladiator”: “Is this not why we are here?” We are here to scrutinise this House; we are here to scrutinise the work that we do. We must do that respectfully. It is the point of our being here. I am not quite in as good a shape as Russell Crowe was in that movie—certainly not since putting on the parliamentary stone.

Although respect for the House and for process is important, we must also be able to engage and scrutinise where relevant. I strongly refute the idea that I or other Members impugned or deliberately impugned the integrity of the Committee. I therefore clarify once again that any comments made prior to full publication were directed not at them or the ongoing inquiry specifically, but at the circumstances surrounding the unprecedented situation that we all found ourselves in.

I want to talk about our international reputation and what it looks like to others. Democracy in this country is very much a beacon—as is this House—and something that people look to and admire, and we should uphold it, with free speech, due process, and free and fair accountability in the face of despotic regimes around the world. I want that to continue. I was very disappointed by one amendment—I am pleased that it was not selected—because that would have set a poor example to people. I found it neither liberal nor democratic. I am proud to be a Member of this House and to serve my Bassetlaw constituents. The events of the last few weeks have left me disappointed that the issues that they care about are being sidelined in order for politicians to criticise other politicians for criticising politicians. We owe it to our constituents to do better.

This week I saw GB News refer to a number of us, with a mocked-up poster, as the “Magnificent Seven”. I suppose one thing that we have in common with the characters in that film is that we all want to keep our villagers happy, and that is certainly a good start. I probably ought to end the comparisons at that point, as I believe that there are only three of them left at the end of the film, and I am hoping that a full seven of us remain by the end of the debate. We have certainly heard some powerful contributions. I respect this House, and I hope now that we can all come together for a far happier ending.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) for his comments on the Privileges Committee. I will make a few short points in relation to comments that have been made in the debate.

First, having spent more than a year considering the privilege matter referred to the Committee, I am certain that every member of the Committee believes in the right of MPs to speak their minds. However, MPs have special rights, and it is those rights that the Privileges Committee considers. The Committee is there to ensure that those rights are used appropriately and protected.

Members are perfectly entitled to say what they think about a Privileges Committee report once that report is published—in fact, we expect that—but while the investigation is taking place, I think, and I think the House believes, that Members should refrain from making public comments. In fact, the House approved the Commons code of conduct, which is clear that that is the intent of this House. Chapter 4 states that Members must not

“lobby the Committee or the Commissioner in a manner calculated to influence their consideration of the matter. The Committee on Standards and Privileges has regarded any breach of this rule as particularly serious and it alone has led to suspension from the House.”

Members are perfectly entitled to speak out when they do not agree with the Privileges Committee’s findings. They have the right to object to and to vote on Members appointed to the Committee, and subsequently to raise any alleged conflicts on a point of order. They can vote against the motion of referral or seek to amend a motion; they can comment on the Committee’s procedure to the Committee itself or to the House; and they can submit evidence to the Committee and debate, vote and comment publicly on the Committee’s final report, as Members have done.

In the three and a half years that I have been a member of the Privileges Committee, I have never once been lobbied directly by a Member of Parliament, but I have received more than 600 emails attempting to influence on this particular motion. My view is that the rule in the Members code of conduct is there to protect both Members and Committee members. Those appointed to the Committee should be free to deliberate without interference, and those who face allegations should know that anyone’s attempts to interfere will be rejected and they could face contempt proceedings. There is a belief that such interference would always be aimed at reducing the sentence, but there is no reason why Members cannot lobby to increase the sentence; were anyone to try to do that, they would equally be rejected.

I am aware that some Members believe that the Committee overreached by making this special report, but I do not agree. Any Committee has the right to make a special report commenting on matters of concern that have arisen during an inquiry. The 1947 resolution of the House makes it clear that the Privileges Committee can consider and report on not just a matter specifically referred to it, but facts surrounding and reasonably connected with it. This is the matter that has been referred here. The special report deals with matters in the public domain; it is not an investigation into alleged contempt by any Members named in it. It does not explicitly say that the Committee believes the Members named committed a contempt; nor, therefore, does it recommend any sanctions. Were any Member of this House referred to a future Committee, it would be incumbent on all the members of the existing Committee to resign, because we would not be able to consider any issue that arose from this report.

Finally, I want to say a few words about fairness of process. The Committee received excellent advice, impartial and authoritative, from Clerks of the House and, most importantly, from Speaker’s Counsel and Sir Ernest Ryder, a Lord Justice of Appeal and Senior President of Tribunals. Both have ensured that the process we undertook allowed natural justice and was fair to all involved.

There is a risk to the systems of this House. Members will simply not be willing to serve on a Committee if they are not allowed to take decisions in an environment that affords them space to do so in a fair and appropriate manner. I approached this case with a totally open mind—in fact, I believe that all members of the Committee did. In a previous determination in July 2021 in relation to Mr Johnson’s declarations of a holiday he had received, we approached that, too, with a completely open mind. In that case, we challenged what was being reported by the commissioner; we sought more information, and ultimately, despite the commissioner recommending a finding of a breach of the code, the Committee decided not to accept that and overturned the findings. In this case, before the case had begun, Members of the House of Lords were making allegations of bias, suggesting that we had already prejudged the report. The allegations are simply without merit and there is no evidence to support them.

The special report is about ensuring that this House can continue to follow the procedures and rules that are set out for this House. I urge Members to support the motion.

With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank all Members who have taken part in the debate. I welcome their consideration of the issues at hand. Given the nature of the debate, I wish to make a few points in closing.

First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) just confirmed, the Committee is entitled to make this report. For those who are interested, the reference is chapter 38.51 of “Erskine May”. Secondly, to respond to the point made by the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), the Committee suggested no sanction—that was not an ask it made of the House—and, having heard the debate, I do not think there is any appetite to do any such thing.

Various Members have pointed to elements of the report that they agree with and find uncontroversial—section B in particular—as well as others that they disagree with and find controversial. In the same way, there were mixed opinions on different aspects of the original substantive report. In that respect, this debate perhaps matters more than any vote that might follow it, but I will repeat the points I made in the substantive debate. If the motion is pressed to a vote, hon. Members must use their judgment. Whether they agree or disagree, or both agree and disagree and therefore abstain, they are entitled to do that and should be left alone to do so.

During the lengthy speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg), I found my mind turning to the parable of the four blindfolded men who encountered an elephant. One felt its tail and said it was a rope, one its leg and said it was a tree, one its ear and said it was fan, and one its trunk and said it was a snake, but none could tell that there was an elephant in the room. Although I have nothing against pettifogging over “Erskine May”—in fact, a large part of my day, every day, is spent doing precisely that—I do not want us to miss the bigger picture. We have a duty of care to each other. Free speech is vital for us to do our jobs, and with that comes responsibility. We have a duty, for the protection of our own rights and privileges, to the Privileges Committee and those who sit on it.

We are at our best in this place when we say, “Sorry,” if we have transgressed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) has done, ever so savvily. We are at our best when we are kind and generous to those who have done us wrong, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) has been today, and when we turn up and step up to do what we think is right, even though there was no expectation that we would, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) has done today. We all shoulder the responsibility of defending this House, and we should remember that, from time to time, that burden falls disproportionately on some shoulders. That should not be a thankless task. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House,

(a) notes with approval the Special Report from the Committee of Privileges;

(b) considers that where the House has agreed to refer a matter relating to individual conduct to the Committee of Privileges, Members of this House should not impugn the integrity of that Committee or its members or attempt to lobby or intimidate those members or to encourage others to do so, since such behaviour undermines the proceedings of the House and is itself capable of being a contempt; and

(c) considers it expedient that the House of Lords is made aware of the Special Report and this Resolution, so that that House can take such action as it deems appropriate.