Parliament and Politics: The Mellor Resignation: 'It has been an illuminating episode': Tabloid editors reject suggestion that minister's fall will lead to legislation. Extracts from Mellor's personal statement to the Commons

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Indy Politics
IN A personal statement to the Commons yesterday, David Mellor accepted he was the author of his own downfall but urged MPs to reflect on the exercise of media power.

These are edited extracts of what the resigning Secretary of State for National Heritage told the House when he made his statement during the emergency debate on Bosnia:

'I apologise to those who are engaged in a very serious debate about real tragedies in the world for interposing my altogether rather smaller matter.

'But I thought that it would be right that having resigned, rather than go and do a round of press conferences and so on, the right thing to do was to come and give an account of myself to this House.

'Madam Speaker, I want to make clear to my colleagues and members of this House that for me, while of course I have my regrets about this matter, this is not actually a sad moment for me.

'After what my family and I have been through for these last two months, it is almost with a sense of relief that I come to make this statement. Because there were times during that period when one wondered whether one was living in Ceaucescu's Romania rather than John Major's Britain - bugged telephone calls and other things came out.

'But I want to make clear to the House that I resigned for what I hope the House will agree was the best of reasons.

'I could not expect my colleagues either in the Government or in Parliament to put up with more and more ceaseless flow of stories about me in the tabloid press.

'And having grown heartily sick of my private life myself, I could hardly expect others to take a more charitable view]'

Though his offer to resign in July had not been accepted by the Prime Minister, Mr Mellor said that from then on he had regarded himself as the servant of the Government and his party.

'If a time came when my presence was an embarrassment, that was the time to go. The time to go was yesterday. And to those who think it could have been sooner, I think it is legitimate for the Prime Minister and senior colleagues to take the view that in this day and age - sorry and distressed though I was at the revelations and inevitably how cheap and sordid it might have looked - this wasn't a reason for a Cabinet minister to resign.

'Inevitably there were other stories as it became clear that this was not a matter that would be allowed to rest.

'I am very glad to leave office with it having been made clear that there has been no breach whatsoever of any ministerial rules.

'That's not to say that people aren't entitled to challenge my judgement on those other issues that have been raised.

'But what is absolutely clear - that there was no question of any impropriety and I hope that I can leave office with that fact very clearly established.

'It will be for others to decide the rights and wrongs of this business. Certainly, I was the author of my own misfortunes, and it is that that permits me to make this statement as I do today.'

Turning to the role of the media, he said:

'I am one of those who has actually always been very relaxed about the media and never taken the view that statutory interventions were going to be the answer. And indeed, to be fair, most journalists and most newspapers have behaved precisely in the professional manner that one would expect.'

But it had been an illuminating episode, he said, throughout which his family, and particularly his wife, had been a tower of strength.

'The seeming endless hordes of people who appear not only outside one's own home, but outside the homes of relatives, outside the homes of friends and acquaintances, the extraordinarily offensive things that are said in the context of those visits and a lack of respect for age and infirmity when pressing the point home.

'The legions of cameramen who take 10 or 12 pictures, when you know none of them are going to appear, rushing around like in some Rambo film, banging against the side of the car and so on. Even staying outside our house last night until the wee small hours, long after it was obvious all we were trying to do was to get a good night's sleep.

'Maybe that is indeed the way that an alternative criminal justice system run by the media should work. But when the real criminal justice system that we have all played our part in creating in Parliament was established, it was established with checks and balances and principles of fairness.'

Mr Mellor went on: 'I have to say that when chequebooks are waved for stories, however lurid; when people are offered at the beginning of the conversation, 'We'd like to talk to you, we'll make it worth your while'; when bugged telephone calls - we now have to accept it's not just me - can appear, I do think there will be some who will want to reflect on these matters.

'For my part, I should not play any part in all this because I would be parti pris. Indeed, I was determined, as I leave office, just as when I held it, that I would never allow my own experiences to interpose themselves.

'But I think they are relevant and interesting. And it is a paradox, of course, that the only basis on which today the BBC said some tabloids - and I must make clear it is only some - can express unrestrained glee at what happened, is the sense that they have exercised power.

'But the issue is: do they exercise power with responsibility? It is the paradox that the only basis on which this can be justified is that a greater public good is thereby being served.

'But can anyone sufficiently explain the paradox that in serving a greater public good, one is entitled to bug and buy and abuse and use methods that are themselves amoral or at best morally neutral?

'I think that is an issue that at some point the House will have to come to consider.'

Mr Mellor said he would treasure his 11 years as a minister and his great sadness was that having established the Department of National Heritage he would not have an opportunity to carry on with that task.

'There's no doubt about it that I have had a genuine passion for what we have been trying to do in the department. Though it is entirely my own fault, I deeply regret that I shan't be able to carry on.'

He thanked MPs on both sides of the Commons for their acts of friendship and his Putney constituents for sticking by him through 'this sorry mess'.

'Finally, I just want to say this, you know: as I leave the warmth of government for the icy wastes of the back benches, I do want everyone to know that there is a precedent for this because Captain Oates was born and raised in my constituency.'

(Photograph omitted)

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