Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been drawn to my attention that, at Scotland Office questions on Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Scotland made a gratuitous, false and insulting attack on me. She associated my name with her own and those of others who had been employed by Robert Maxwell, whereas in fact I had no dealings with him while he was alive. Then she said that I
“could have done much to help the Maxwell pensioners”,
“heels we could not see for dust.”–[Official Report, 3 April 2001; Vol. 366, c. 167.]
In fact, as you will recall, Mr. Speaker, I spent five years clearing up the mess that the right hon. Lady and her former employer left behind after he was found dead in the Atlantic and it was discovered that ?400 million was missing from the pension funds of the Maxwell group. I set up the Maxwell Pensioners Trust, as a result of which every Maxwell pensioner and employee, including the right hon. Lady, now stands to receive his or her pension entitlement in full, despite the depredations of Robert Maxwell.
I appreciate that accusations minted by the Secretary of State for Scotland are scarcely legal tender and I am not worried about my own reputation. However, notable public servants such as Lord Cuckney, Jane Newall and others who ran the Maxwell Pensioners trust brilliantly secured the return of the money and the protection of all those pensioners.
I have written to the Secretary of State and asked her to apologise or to repeat her comments outside the House. My question for you, Mr. Speaker, is what protection do we have in the event of such gratuitous insults, which bear on the honour of Members of Parliament and, more important, on the reputation of public servants outside the House?
Mr. Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman asks how he can rebut a case that has been made against him, but I would say that he has been able to do so today under that point of order. I cannot become involved in disputes between Members. I was present at Scotland Office questions and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State for Scotland was not out of order as far as the rules of the House are concerned. However, the right hon. Gentleman has been able to make his point, and his remarks about himself and others have been put on the record.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. With reference to that occasion, is it not undesirable and contrary to the practices of the House that a Minister or anyone else called to answer should make such a point, which was unrelated to the question that was being asked?
Mr. Speaker: I have absolutely nothing to add to what I have already said to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley).
5th April 2001 (Ref: 366 c521)