Mr Meacher is a virtually forgotten man on Labour's front benches. But in his occasional forays during questions to the 'open government' ministers William Waldegrave and David Davis, the former social security spokesman shows he has lost none of his zest for hyperbole.
The exchanges on freemasonry were opened by his colleague Chris Mullin, MP for Sunderland South and an irritant to self-serving aspects of the Establishment. 'Is it asking too much for ministers who say they believe in open government to require magistrates, police officers, civil servants and local government officers who are freemasons to declare that fact?' Mr Mullin asked.
'How is it possible to maintain public confidence in public institutions when members of those public institutions are members of a secret society, one of whose aims is mutual self-advancement?'
Mr Davis, a parliamentary secretary, said that under the Civil Service code, revised last May, officials who were freemasons were required to disclose any conflict of interest that arose. Police rules made clear that private interests should not be seen to conflict with impartial performance of duty.
Mr Meacher went for the broad canvas, drawing in the Government's refusal to ban cigarette advertising and the Pergau dam aid- and-arms affair. 'Isn't the basis of corruption that decisions are taken in public life not on arm's length merit but because of hidden and partisan relationships?
'Why is the Government so feeble about all of this, whether it is freemasonry in public life, or banning tobacco advertising, or gongs and honours for secret services rendered, or the award of contracts to a small clique of favoured companies without tender and subsidised improperly by the aid and trade provision? Isn't it because the finances of this Tory party and so much of the power of this Tory government, are built on a wholesale corruption machine?'
Mr Davis judged this more of a 'homily' than a question. He did not believe a requirement to disclose freemasonry would help. 'All it would create would be a vast bureaucracy, a vast legislative framework which would be avoided by precisely the people we are trying to catch - those who are corrupt or those who are misusing public office or public money.'
Quite why a 'vast bureaucracy' would be needed Mr Davis did not say. It surely would not be needed to carry out the suggestion of Labour's Dennis Skinner that MPs should include freemasonry in their entry in the Register of Members' Interests.
The sleaze factor also dominated questions to Welsh ministers, with Rhodri Morgan, for Labour, claiming there were now 'more quangos in Cardiff than gondolas in Venice'. Win Griffiths, MP for Bridgend, said Tory appointees to Welsh quangos outnumbered those from other parties by five to one.
John Redwood, the Secretary of State, faced repeated calls for a public list of the political affiliations of people on quangos and other public bodies. Defending the appointment of David Rowe-Beddoe, a Tory party fundraiser, as chairman of the Welsh Development Agency, he said Mr Rowe-Beddoe was chosen for his business skills and was a fine asset to Wales. 'I resent the implication that there is sleaze or that the wrong people are being appointed,' Mr Redwood said. Labour forgot that when they were in power, the Welsh Tourist Board had two chairmen who were Labour parliamentary candidates. 'We are not looking for a group of party placemen. We are looking for talented people who believe in Wales and will do a good job for Wales.'
But his Labour shadow, Ron Davies, said Tory abuse of the system for 'self-serving political ends' made the case for disclosure of party political affiliations overwhelming. 'Mr Redwood may not look for party placemen, but he always seems to find them.'
The House of Lords debated Bosnia, with peers looking forward to air strikes with a grim acceptance that the threat having been made, it must be carried out if Nato's ultimatum on heavy weapons withdrawal is not met.
Field Marshal Lord Bramall, while warning of risks, said if Sarajevo could be made a truly safe haven it would at least restore the authority of the United Nations from which many other advantages would flow. It would also make 'clear that on Europe's very own doorstep there are things up with which, as Winston Churchill once wrote, we and other Europeans will not put'.Reuse content