SCANDALS IN THE HOUSE

Westminster is the mother, not just of parliaments, but of parliamentar y scandals. Over the centuries, thousands of MPs have struggled in vain to control their baser instincts, especially in matters financial and sexual; dozens have been caught. A new book chronicles some of the more spectacular cases, notorious and obscure. As these extracts reveal, yesterday's political sleaze could be just as shocking - and compelling - as today's
Click to follow
SIR JOHN TREVOR - 1694

POSSIBLY the ugliest Commons Speaker ever to occupy the chair, Sir John was probably also the most corrupt. "He created a most unfavourable impression on all who saw him," say Philip Smith and Arnold Wright in Parliament Past and Present, as "an ungainly figure, and with a lowering countenance which was made more repellent by a villainous squint." Trevor's speakership was famous for the confusion caused whenever he chose a member to speak. He would appear to be looking at a different MP from the one he intended to call, and two or more would rise, each under the impression that Sir John was looking at him.

Trevor found it difficult in more ways than one to look Honourable Members in the eye. After a few years in the chair, his reputation for taking bribes to secure desired outcomes in Parliament began to grow. The East India Company was rumoured to have bribed him, successfully, for his influence over legislation touching its interests. He was also said to have accepted a large payment from the City of London Corporation to secure the passage of a measure compensating it for debts incurred through its responsibility for orphans.

The House appointed a committee (in the way that, as you may note, the House always does) to investigate, chaired by a Mr Foley MP. The committee uncovered a written record of the City's instructions: "...that Mr Chamberlain do pay to the Hon Sir John Trevor, Knight, the sum of 1,000 guineas so soon as a Bill be passed into an Act of Parliament for satisfying the debts of the orphans..." There was even a written endorsement of these instructions, confirming that the Act had passed and the money had been paid.

MPs drew up a resolution, effectively convicting their own Speaker of a "high crime and misdemeanour". It fell to Sir John himself, as Speaker, to put the motion to the House. "Shame would have overwhelmed a less sensitive man," say Smith and Wright, "but Trevor was not constituted that way, though it was with blanched cheek and quivering lip that he put the fatal question." The Ayes had it, by overwhelming acclamation. Sir John slunk out. He never returned. To put the motion for his own expulsion was more than he could bear. The next day an expectant House was delivered a note:

GENTLEMEN - I did intend to have waited on you this morning; but, after I was up, I was taken suddenly in with a violent colic. I hope to be in a condition of attending you tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I desire you will be pleased to excuse my attendance. I am, with all duty, Your most obedient humble servant,

J Trevor, SPEAKER

The House adjourned. The following day another sick note was brought. The House expelled their Speaker and elected another, William III raising no objection. No more was heard of Sir John. GEORGE HUDSON - 1849 "In society but not of it," said Lady Dorothy Neville of George Hudson, in her celebrated memoirs. Those looking to make a quick buck out of railway privatisation would do well to read Hudson's tale. The expansion of the railway network in Britain during the middle of the last century gave many men the chance to make their fortunes, but the greatest fortune of all was rapidly won - and spectacularly lost - by George Hudson MP, the "Railway King". Born in 1800 near York, Hudson became a draper in the town. In 1828 he inherited pounds 30,000, invested heavily in the North Midland railway and threw himself into politics. He bought three estates, served as deputy lieutenant for Durham and was thrice Lord Mayor of York. At 45 he was elected Conservative MP for Sunderland.

In the years 1847-8 Britain was experiencing "railway mania". Hudson acquired railway companies until he came to exercise more power in the industry than anyone before or since: and he used his seat in Parliament ruthlessly in the expansion of his business empire. This was not unusual: at the time, 155 MPs were directors of railway companies, and it cannot have been a coincidence that their services had been so sought after. But Hudson went too far. He bribed other MPs to support the private bills authorising his railway purchases.

Once, he advised the Duke of Wellington's two sisters to sell their large holdings in a railway company he knew to be rotten, and they did so, shortly before they would have lost a fortune in its downfall. The grateful Wellington asked whether there was any way he could repay the MP. Hudson replied that his daughter, whom he had sent to an expensive private school, was being victimised for her humble origins. Could Wellington help? The great man responded by a personal call, with flowers, and an outing to tea, so that her reputation among schoolfriends and staff was swiftly secured.

Hudson's dream was to build up a unified system, based on his home-town, that covered the whole of the country. An early slogan he used was "Mak' all t' railways cum t' York". And certainly, as the 1840s neared their end, he found himself well on his way to achieving that aim. He controlled 1,450 of the 5,000 miles of track in England, and was in charge of the Midland, the York and North Midland, the York, Newcastle and Berwick, and the Eastern Counties companies. His empire stretched from Bristol to Berwick.

To achieve this level of control, he had sought to gain influence wherever it might be of use to him - legitimately or otherwise. As well as being elected to the Commons in 1845, he was Lord Mayor of York and served on the magistracies of York, the North Riding, and Durham. He was part proprietor of the Yorkshire Gazette, the Sunderland Times and the Railway Chronicle.

In the financial field, Hudson used the York Union Bank (he was chairman) to borrow heavily in the City, to fund his operations. Moreover, he influenced prices on the London and York Stock Exchanges by buying and selling shares whose prices he wanted to move. He falsified accounts and fraudulently paid dividends out of borrowed capital instead of profits, in order to give an impression of greater success than was actually being achieved. Of great assistance to him in these deceptions was the fact that he kept all the accounts in his head.

Hudson's deceit caught up with him. He was not alone in using creative accounting methods to drum up cash for his investments, and his core businesses were mostly bona fide. In Hudson's day (as in ours) the perpetrators of many potential financial "scandals" were rescued by the ultimate profitability of their ventures and Hudson may have been the visible tip of a parliamentary iceberg. But what did for him was geometry. Hudson was conveying passengers from Newcastle and York to London via Derby and Birmingham, piggy-backing on George Steph-enson's line. Edmund Denison took the straight line down the East coast. A railway between Cambridge and Lincoln to shorten Hudson's route failed, and his prospects faded.

By the beginning of 1849 Hudson's empire was crumbling. He had overstretched himself. Keen-eyed shareholders, who had become suspicious and started to study the accounts, found discrepancies. In February the York, Newcastle and Berwick Company set up a committee of investigation. Its report two months later signalled the end of the reign of the Railway King. In October 1846, Hudson had recommended to the company that they buy shares in another company, the Great North of England. They agreed, and put Hudson himself in sole charge of the purchases. What Hudson hadn't told them was that earlier in the month he had bought some GNE shares himself, in a personal capacity. So he sold his own shares to his own company. He sold them at pounds 23 10s per share, while their true market value was only pounds 21. In the age of the directors' share option, we can only marvel at his restraint.

Hudson was forced to buy back the shares, and repay the pounds 9,000 which he had defrauded from the company. The Yorkshireman newspaper, in the lapel-clutching prose of the day, took up the case: "Mr Hudson shall not escape us. The thousands he has duped, and the breaking hearts from whence spring curses both loud and deep, shall have ample satisfaction for the injuries they have suffered and the torments they have endured."

Another of Hudson's companies, the Eastern Counties, set up their own committee. Until now Hudson had been the hero of the company, having "rescued" it from near bankruptcy in 1845. But now it was discovered that of the pounds 545,714 he had paid out in dividends between 1845 and 1848, pounds 320,572 had come not from profits but from capital. The committee found that as well as stealing the company's money to pay his own hotel bills, Hudson and David Waddington (another MP on the company's board) had stolen pounds 9,000 with which to bribe other MPs into supporting Hudson's purchases of other companies. The committee petitioned Parliament.

Hudson was lost. He was forced to resign all his chairmanships. His brother- in-law, Richard Nicholson (a co-accused) killed himself in shame. Nine days later, Hudson was forced to make a Commons reply to the allegations of bribery. He was in such a state that for several moments he could not even speak. Even when he did start, building up to a defiant performance, his fellow MPs heard little to impress them. From now on he was to be an outcast (but, as an MP, an unarrestable one) in the Commons and outside it. In the months that followed, he was forced to pay back the sums he had stolen from his various companies. In York he was particularly unpopular - he didn't even dare show himself there. His name was removed from the Aldermanic roll, and the new approach to York train station, which had been named Hudson Street, was given the rather plainer title of Railway Street.

The following year his co-swindler, James Richardson, sued the Yorkshireman for libel over an article condemning him and Hudson. He lost, so damning Hudson even further. But Hudson was determined to stay in the Commons, a determination based less on stubborn pride than on the legal protection his status as an MP gave him. In the 1852 election he managed to avoid defeat, largely because two years earlier he had secured the opening of a new dock in his Sunderland constituency. But even while he sat as an MP, he would always flee to Paris when Parliament was in recess, in order to escape his creditors. He lost his Sunderland seat in 1859 and spent the remaining years of his life in litigation, in Boulogne, making efforts to operate financially outside England. He died in 1871, virtually penniless.

We must not be too hard on George Hudson. He was merely an improviser who moved money on castors. The statue planned for him outside York was replaced by one of George Leeman, his chief tormentor, the sort of high- toned creep who inspires in us a sneaking affection for men like Hudson. SIR CHARLES DILKE 1885-6 "In the case of a public man a charge is always believed by many, even though disproved," wrote Charles Dilke, one of the most prominent Liberal politicians of his day - before his fall. He was to star in a bedroom farce of such fiendish complexity that the story might be offered to trainee tabloid journalists as an advanced examination question, to see if they can render what follows in more easily grasped outline than can I.

Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke was elected MP for Chelsea in 1868. By 1883 he was in the Cabinet, as President of the Local Government Board, a position he retained until Gladstone's election defeat of 1885. Many saw him as a potential Prime Minister. But the promising career of this doctrinaire radical with Republican sympathies collapsed on Saturday 18 July 1885. Returning home at midnight he innocently opened a letter from his friend Mrs Christina Rogerson. She had "grave information" to impart.

Early the following morning the lady ushered him into her drawing-room and dropped a bombshell. Her lawyer brother was acting in the divorce case of a Mr Donald Crawford. Crawford's 22-year-old wife, she explained contemptuously, was intent on destroying Dilke. Virginia Crawford was related to Dilke by marriage: his deceased brother's widow was one of her sisters. Virginia was an extraordinary and colourful woman, in many ways more interesting than Dilke. She had a history. The daughter of a Tyneside shipowner, she had been forced to marry a man (Crawford) twice her age, and with a sister, Helen, had for years secretly enlivened her married life in the arms of medical students from a nearby hospital. She and Helen also frequented a Knightsbridge brothel, where both women had been conducting an affair with a certain Captain Henry Forster.

Virginia was now claiming that the 42-year-old Dilke had been her lover from February 1882 to the late summer of 1884. Their secret trysts, she alleged, had been conducted at his Sloane Street flat and her home in Kensington. For good measure she threw in more: claims that Dilke had a string of other lovers, including one of his maids, Sarah, and her own mother, Mrs Eustace Smith. Unfortunately for Dilke, this last allegation was true. Mrs Rogerson then relayed the name of the next lady on Crawford's list: it was her own. Dilke gasped: "Are there any more?" There were. Mrs Rogerson had left the worst till last. Crawford was claiming she had been coerced into three-in-a-bed romps with Dilke and Fanny Stock, a buxom serving girl at his Sloane Street address (also referred to by some contemporaries as Fanny Grey). Crawford later alleged that, tucked up in bed with Fanny and herself, "The MP taught me every French vice ...

He used to say that I knew more than most women of 30." It was clear to Dilke that Mrs Crawford had created the web of deceit to throw her own husband, Donald, off the scent. She was portraying him as what would now be called a "sex beast". If Virginia had a serious lover at all, though, it was not Dilke, but Captain Forster, and, consumed by jealousy, her middle-aged husband had hired private detectives to report on his wife's infidelities. When he had confronted her she said that her only lover had been Dilke. He had filed for divorce.

It has never been established whether Dilke, undoubtedly a ladies' man, had enjoyed the kind of affair alleged, or any affair, with Virginia Crawford. Something about his self-defeating attempts to prove his innocence suggests that these allegations, at least, really were not true. But because he was known as single and susceptible, her choice of him to name would have been shrewd, whether true or not. It has been suggested that Crawford was anxious for a divorce anyway, but anxious also to protect Captain Forster; and that she had resented Dilke's affair with her mother. There was gossip that she had also been encouraged by Mrs Rogerson to frame Dilke - because Rogerson was bitter, believing herself to have been jilted by the politician.

Others have suggested that Dilke was framed for political reasons: he was a rising Liberal star; he was controversial; he was a republican. Queen Victoria, it was said, was amused. Framed or not, Dilke saw at once how serious these accusations were. To have one affair might be manageable: but to bed so many, and to stoop below the stairs, and then get caught, was a bed too far.

As it happened, Dilke was himself engaged to be married. He wrote a painful letter to his fiancee, the upright widow Emilia Pattison. "In my belief the conspiracy comes from a woman who wanted me to marry her - but this is guesswork. I only know that there is a conspiracy, from one of two women, perhaps from both." Then, boiling with rage, he went to Mrs Crawford's house, insisting she withdraw the farrago of lies. She refused.

Dilke was in despair. His diary entry two days later says:

Left for the last time the House of Commons... A sudden fall indeed! Such a charge - even if disproved - which is not easy against perjured evidence picked up with care, is fatal to supreme usefulness in politics. In the case of a public man a charge is always believed by many, even though disproved, and I should be weighted by it throughout life. I prefer therefore to at once contemplate leaving public life for ever.

Even for a Liberal, to split an infinitive in 1885 indicated immense personal strain. His wedding went ahead in Chelsea on 3 October under the shadow of the Crawfords' impending divorce case. Gladstone was re-elected Prime Minister four months later but, famous for his virtue, could not risk giving Dilke Cabinet office with the divorce hearing only 10 days away.

At the hearing on 12 February 1886, Dilke was represented by the newly appointed Attorney General, Sir Charles Russell. (It was acceptable in those days for government law officers to take private briefs.) Joseph Chamberlain sat by his friend's side. The only substantial evidence offered by Crawford was his wife's confession. It had no legal force so Dilke had no case to answer. The Attorney General refused to put Dilke in the witness box. Then he blundered badly. Without Dilke's permission, he told the court: "In the life of any man there may be found to have been possible indiscretions." He was, of course, referring to Dilke's affair with Crawford's embittered mother. The Crawford team had employed four people to muck- rake. The newspapers had a field day omitting the crucial word "possible", instead speculating on Dilke's "indiscretions". Mr Justice Burt compounded the MP's misery when he granted Crawford his divorce. If Crawf-ord's wife had not slept with Dilke, why was the divorce granted?

It was at this point that the Pall Mall Gazette swung into action. The editor, WT Stead, who was later to lose his life on the Titanic, shrewdly combined the sensationalism needed to sell papers with a self-appointed role as guardian of public morals. The previous year, in order to expose child prostitution, he had bought a 13-year-old girl for pounds 5 from her parents: a criminal offence (though his behaviour toward her was unimpeachable) for which he received three months' imprisonment. He served his sentence ostentatiously, and every year thereafter wore his prison uniform in public on the anniversary of his conviction. His protest did succeed in getting the age of consent raised from 12 to 16 in 1885. Now, after Dilke's court appearance, Stead called on the MP to clear his name. Dilke responded. He asked the Queen's Proctor to use his powers to annul Crawford's decree nisi before it was made absolute. The Proctor granted his embattled friend's request and ordered a second hearing that July. Dilke was confident of success. By now he had tracked down the infamous Fanny Stock, who was happy to deny the three-in-a-bed claim. He also had proof of Mrs Crawford's adultery with Captain Forster, which she was still denying.

Even before the trial started, things began to go wrong. Dilke had been cleared at the first hearing; he was a witness, not a defendant, at the second. His lawyers could not therefore demand to cross-examine the treacherous Mrs Crawford. Dilke's problem was therefore an almost intractable one in law: without the key witness, he had to pin all his hopes on counsel to prove a negative: that he had never slept with a named individual, whom he could not call as a witness. Just 11 days before the trial, Dilke suffered further humiliation when he was rejected by the electors of Chelsea in a massive swing against the Gladstone government.

The trial started on 16 July 1886. The courtroom was packed. Rarely had a simple divorce case attracted such massive public interest. Dilke was at an immediate disadvantage by being called first to the witness box. Mrs Crawford had the benefit of hearing Dilke's evidence before responding. Although she was forced to admit her adultery with Captain Forster, she stuck resolutely to her claim that Dilke had been her main lover.

The case lasted a week. The jury took only 15 minutes to reach their verdict - the decree nisi was not contrary to justice. Such an outcome did not absolutely imply that Dilke was Mrs Crawford's lover, but it was enough for chattering tongues. Dilke's political career was finished and he immediately wrote an address to the electors of Chelsea:

As far as public life goes, I have no option but to accept the verdict, while protesting once more against its justice. I can only, gentlemen, assure you, as I have already often assured you, and with equal solemnity sworn in court, that I am innocent of the charges brought against me, and respectfully and gratefully bid you farewell.

Dilke's plea of innocence received substantial but belated backing from a committee established by his supporters. They uncovered convincing evidence (which they published in a pamphlet in 1891) that Mrs Crawford's affair with Captain Forster was much more involved than she admitted at the second trial. There was also evidence of other lovers, and they established strong alibis for Dilke on three of the nights she had claimed to have spent with him. But all this was too complicated, and it was too late.

In 1892, Gladstone was elected Prime Minister for the fourth time. The new Premier wanted no suspicion of infidelity in his administration. Although Dilke had been re-elected by the burghers of the Forest of Dean, this gifted politician was never again rewarded with public office. He held his seat until his death in 1911.

Historians generally doubt that any adulterous relationship between Dilke and Crawford ever took place. Virginia herself was by no means finished. She survived until 1948, becoming a public figure in her own right: as a writer and thinker, a Labour councillor, and so ferocious a campaigner against fascism that Mussolini blacklisted her. LEWIS HARCOURT - 1922 Lewis (later lst Viscount) Harcourt, known to his friends as "Loulou", was the only surviving son of the great radical Liberal statesman Sir William Harcourt (1827-1904), who was Home Secretary, later Chancellor of the Exchequer. Sir William is best remembered as the man who introduced Death Duties in 1894 with the words "we are all socialists now". A celebrated orator, Sir William would probably have succeeded Gladstone as Prime Minister, if the Queen had not tipped the balance in favour of the erratic Rosebery.

Loulou was a sickly child: his mother died soon after his birth and he was passionately attached to his father. Until the age of 40 his career consisted in being his father's private secretary. When Sir William died, Loulou entered Parliament, where he was to sit in Cabinet from 1905 to 1916, initially as First Commissioner of Works (he was responsible for giving London's parks much of their present aspect) and, from 1910, as Colonial Secretary. He left the government in sympathy with Asquith in 1916, ascending to the peerage the following year. After the war, his house remained a notable political salon.

In 1899, Loulou had married the fabulously rich American heiress Mary Burns, niece of the banker Pierpoint Morgan. Her parents' wedding present was a magnificent double house in Brook Street, which Mrs Harcourt decorated in the eclectic, ornate style then fashionable in New York. The decor, dubbed "Loulou Quinze" by visitors of the day, has been retained by the Savile Club, which has occupied the building since l927 - only a few years after Harcourt's death and the family's departure.

If the outward trappings of Loulou's life and career were conventional, the private side was less so. The Harcourts were an apparently contented couple with a son and two daughters, but Loulou's true romantic and sexual interests lay elsewhere. He was an enthusiastic practising paedophile, absorbed by children of both sexes. A great friend was Reginald (Reggie) Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher, Edwardian eminence grise and professional confidant - not least - of the King, as well as many prominent politicians. They saw much of each other: Reggie was Secretary to the Board of Works while Loulou was Commissioner. Reggie shared his friend's sexual tastes but preferred boys to girls. He had a long affair with his own second son, Maurice, who also supplied a number of Eton schoolfriends. Loulou also seduced Maurice, as well as Reggie's young daughter Dorothy (the "Brett" of DH Lawrence), putting her off men for life. (Loulou was not a physically attractive man; many found him repulsive.)

Reggie became concerned about his friend, believing his indiscretion and high public profile might lead to eventual exposure. Both men were Fellows of Eton, and, according to James Lees Milne's excellent biography of Esher, The Enigmatic Edwardian (1986), boys there were warned to avoid taking walks alone with either Lord Harcourt or Lord Esher.

Some time during the autumn of 1921, Loulou pounced on an Eton boy who, with his mother, was visiting Nuneham Court, the Harcourts' country house in Oxfordshire. The boy was Edward James (the future millionaire homosexual aesthete, patron of Betjeman and the surrealists, and owner of Monkton Hall). James recalls in his memoirs that he fought off Loulou's advances ("a hideous and horrible old man") and told his mother what had happened. She gossiped indignantly about the assault among friends in London society, and the story slowly made the social descent until it reached the police.

On the morning of 24 February, Loulou, who had been looking preoccupied for days, was found dead by his valet in his dressing room at 69 Brook Street - where he had been sleeping since ceasing relations with his wife some years earlier. He had swallowed a whole bottle of the sleeping draught known as Bromidia.

Every effort was made to achieve a British standard of graceful untruth. At the inquest held a week later, Loulou's doctor claimed he had been in precarious health and the overdose might not have killed a man with a strong heart. Lady Harcourt also gave evidence and insisted that her husband had been "most cheerful" the day before his death. The coroner concluded that "there was not the slightest motive for suicide" and (according to the Times of 1 March 1922) brought in a verdict of death by misadventure. Loulou's Dictionary of National Biography entry, by his friend Lord Onslow, claims he died suddenly at his country house after being unwell for some time, adding nothing more about the circumstances.

Political society evidently knew the truth about what was unquestionably the great politico-sexual scandal of the 1920s. Meanwhile, Esher quickly went through Loulou's archives to extract his child pornography collection, said to be the best in the world, which he carried off to his own house. Its ultimate fate is unknown. The family, including the new Viscount, aged 13, left London soon afterwards and proceeded to live quietly on their estate in Oxfordshire.

This scandal, famous at the time but only ever among "people who know", was kept out of the newspapers and has rarely appeared in print. I stumbled on the story quite by accident, while dining with the retired Labour MP and psycho-political writer, Leo Abse, at his club, the Savile. Leo mentioned the club's link with Harcourt, and gave me the outline. A friend and historian, Michael Bloch, supplied from his own research the details set out above, and I am grateful to him. JOHN BELCHER - 1948 John Belcher has the dubious distinction of being the only minister in Clement Attlee's astonishingly clean post-war government to resign after a scandal. We look back from an era of "cash-for-questions" scandals to an era of post-war rationing, and a "groceries-for-questions" affair. Sherry, burgundy, whisky, meals out, lunch and a suit featured among the gifts from an unscrupulous lobbyist, "the Spider of Park Lane", with more than one government minister on his books.

Belcher was the first minister fingered. With Britain still in the grip of rationing, Belcher's crime was allowing himself to be showered with gifts by one of Westminster's first political lobbyists. The junior Trade minister accepted a holiday for his family in Margate, another in Bournemouth, a pounds 68 gold cigarette case, a three-piece suit and lavish entertaining at Harringay dog track. The gifts came from the Spider, Sydney Stanley, king of the fixers in the thriving black economy under post-war austerity. Belcher met him in April 1947, a year after becoming a minister. Within a month he was being rewarded in Margate.

Polish-born Stanley, alias Kohsyzcky, Rechtand or Wulkan, was an undischarged bankrupt with a 1933 deportation order outstanding against him. Despite his physical appearance (one writer described him as "five feet three... portly and ill-formed... a wide flat face and deep-set eyes") he persuaded the distrustful business community that it could work with the new socialist government, and that he could be a bridge. He spent more than pounds 60,000 a year on entertaining to prove his point. Belcher, a former Great Western railway clerk, had been elected MP for Sowerby in Yorkshire in 1945, and made a minister within a year. He was quickly ensnared in the web of the Spider.

Forty-three-year-old Belcher was keen to establish good relations with the business world. His "door was always open". Open, for instance, to Sir Maurice Bloch, head of the Glasgow distillers, Bloch Brothers Ltd. In a two-month period, Bloch gave Belcher 56 bottles of sherry, burgundy and whisky - unimaginably precious commodities in post-war London - in return for three import licences for "essential" business supplies.

None could match the generosity of the Spider. For Belcher's birthday, Stanley threw a dinner party at the Garter Club. The bill for half a dozen people was pounds 89, lavish at the prices of the day. At the same time, Stanley was promising businessmen that his friend the minister could open doors for them. Belcher's and Stanley's undoing was the increasingly exaggerated nature of these promises: promises the minister was unable to fulfil.

In August 1948 two business contacts became suspicious. Stanley had persuaded Harry Sherman, head of Sherman's Football Pools, that he could get Belcher to drop a prosecution against the company that had resulted from Sherman's breach of the paper rationing regulations in the production of coupons. Another company, Stagg & Russell Ltd, had paid Stanley pounds 10,000 for an import licence for amusement arcade machines. Harry Sherman complained to an official in Belcher's office; Stagg & Russell went to the police.

On 30 August Harold Wilson, then President of the Board of Trade and Belcher's boss, was told about Sherman's claims. He informed the police, the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor. A tribunal was set up under Mr Justice Lynskey and Belcher was asked to go on leave for the duration, as the 26-day tribunal heard about the extent of the "cash-for-favours" scandals.

Other government ministers were named. Charles Key, the Minister of Works, had progressed from lunches and bottled beverages from Stanley, to a first fitting for a suit. George Gibson, a director of the Bank of England, was censured for abusing his position with Stanley to gain material advantage. Lynskey's 50,000-word report was published in January 1949. It was withering in its denunciation of Stanley: "a man who will make any statement, whether true or untrue, if he thinks that it is to his own advantage".

Found guilty of using his influence as a minister in return for "small gifts and hospitality", Belcher, who had already resigned as a minister, resigned as an MP on 3 February 1949. It was after this case that Attlee set up a committee to look at the problem of middlemen and consultants. It reported in October 1949 that "common sense and vigilance" were the only necessary safeguards against corruption, an observation of blinding futility. IAN HARVEY - 1958 "Tory MP Caught in Bush with Guardsman", the headlines would proclaim today. "pounds 5 fine on Ian Harvey. He will pay to end of life," rumbled the Times on 11 December 1958. They were right. Ian Harvey was a minister. Fined for indecency with a young Coldstream Guard, he was the first in a depressing roll call of Macmillan's ministers brought down by scandal.

Harvey had started playing with fire and guardsmen five years before becoming MP for Harrow East in 1950. Now, living in fashionable Trevor Square, off Hyde Park, he was well placed to pick up troopers from the Knightsbridge barracks of the Household Cavalry. From a young age he had known he was homosexual, but ambition had dictated pragmatism and in 1949 he had married Clare Mayhew, sister of the Labour MP and broadcaster Christopher Mayhew, now a peer. The union satisfied his constituency supporters, who, as he recalled in his autobiography, To Fall Like Lucifer, "thought it was a mistake to have a candidate who was bachelor and over 30." Glamorous Mrs Harvey was wheeled in. It worked, and the following year her husband was elected MP for Harrow East.

Mr Harvey did not let marriage or political office interrupt his forays into Hyde Park. "I discovered a very convenient place near the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens. JM Barrie, unlike some of his predecessors, would hardly have approved. Peter Pan had his back to us so I could not be accused of polluting the young."

Harvey was taking a great risk. In 1958 the maximum sentence for any form of homosexual conduct was five years in prison. "In view of my undoubted political ambitions this conduct could well be adjudged as verging on insanity. Every time it was over I pretended to myself that this was definitely the last time. I knew perfectly well... exactly what would happen if I were caught." He would be back in his usual spot the very next night.

Born in Surrey in 1914, Harvey enjoyed a comfortable middle-class upbringing. He attended Fettes College in Scotland and Christ Church College, Oxford, where he was President of the Union. After a distinguished wartime career he went on to a successful job in advertising and wrote a noted book, Techniques of Persuasion. He moved into politics, serving his apprenticeship in local government. His wartime service enabled him to make his mark in Parliament as a member of a Commons Select Committee whose advice reinforced draconian punishments for practising homosexuals in the armed forces. He rapidly became known as one of Macmillan's abler young supporters. In 1956 he was a popular choice as Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Supply. When Macmillan became Prime Minister the following year, Harvey was promoted to the Foreign Office. Two years later, he fell like Lucifer.

After dinner at the Polish embassy on Wednesday 19 Novem-ber 1958, temptation proved too strong. Just after 11pm, when the guardsmen would be returning from the pubs to the Wel-lington Barracks, Harvey walked along the Mall, another favourite pick-up point. A teenage guardsman in uniform caught the minister's eye. He caught up with him and they went into St James's Park. They had no intention of feeding the ducks. A few minutes after they disappeared into a bush the harsh glare of a torch beam interrupted them. A policeman and park-keeper had heard a rustling noise in the bushes. The Times reported: "They saw two men standing under a tree misbehaving." Harvey panicked and on the way to Cannon Row police station attempted to make a run for it. But ministerial life had taken its toll: he tired, and was swiftly recaptured. At first he gave a false name and address. To no avail. They knew who he was. Harvey owned up.

The following morning the 44-year-old minister and the 19-year-old guardsman, Anthony Walter Plant, were charged with gross indecency and breaching the park's regulations by behaving in a way likely to offend against public decency. The case was adjourned. A 100-strong crowd was waiting outside the court. The Minister made his escape in a taxi in the direction of Whitehall, but his two-minute court appearance, standing next to the slim, fair-haired soldier in blue dress uniform, made the front pages of the evening newspapers. Harvey's local party pledged to stand by him, but the day after his court appearance he told the Prime Minister he intended to resign from Parliament. Though Macmillan, who desperately wanted to avoid a by-election, begged him to reconsider over the weekend, Harvey's mind was already made up.

When the case came to court for the second time, on 10 December, the gross indecency charge had been dropped. Counsel for Plant said he was young and naive, and "as far as could be traced was not addicted in this way". Returning from his fiancee's home in north London, he had only gone into the park with Harvey "out of curiosity". They were fined pounds 5 each for breaching park regulations. Harvey paid Plant's fine. "I felt it was the least I could do," he said.

As he left the court he was mobbed by the press. Rather than run for cover he faced the music for 10 minutes in the hope "that if I got it all over there and then I was less likely to be plagued for interviews on the telephone... I felt no resentment because I knew that they were only doing their job and I wanted to make it as easy for them as I could."

Harvey was resigned to being ostracised by former friends. "The Conservative Party, quite understandably because of its outlook and make-up, did not want to know anything more about me." Nor did any of his clubs. The Carlton Club accepted his resignation without comment. The Junior Carlton Club would allow him to keep his membership only if he never set foot in it for two years. "I thought this was rather an expensive indignity, so I declined to give the assurance and resigned." The chairman of Pratt's showed mercy and urged him to stay. "I knew, however, that there were a number of members who were less broadminded." He faced a further ordeal: dishonourable discharge from the Territorial Army, despite his distinguished war record. It required the intervention of Hugh Fraser, a junior minister at the War Office, to spare him this fresh humiliation.

For more than two years he faced what he called "Purgatory. I went to several psychiatrists - the first treated me like a twit, as if I was simple-minded - and I drank a lot," he told the Daily Mirror in 1972. After a period of total breakdown he became a Roman Catholic. He and his wife were divorced.

The disgraced Tory was persuaded to break his long silence by Lord Longford, the Roman Catholic Labour peer whose causes include Myra Hindley, and who has argued consistently the evils of homosexuality. Harvey wrote his autobiography in 1971, and it was published by Longford's Sidgwick & Jackson. It shows more remorse at his folly than at his homosexuality, and he later became honorary president of the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. From 1980 I saw him often, being parliamentary president myself. Ian wanted to help, but lacked confidence that his association with us was helpful, drank too much, and would issue half-hearted invitations to members of the group to accompany him home. Everybody liked him for his self-mocking humility, but his self-denigration seemed sad. He was a broken man, and looked it. He never came to terms with his fall from power, remarking once: "I am the best politician the Tories haven't got."

Ian Harvey died in 1987. His immediate successor at the Foreign Office was one John Profumo.

r Matthew Parris 1995

! Extract taken from "Great Parliamentary Scandals", published by Robson Books on 2 November, pounds 16.95

Comments