The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Bribes? Certainly not] Make mine a consultancy

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The Independent Online
IN MY DAY, there were strict standards, and by golly one abided by them. When first I entered Parliament in '59, it was unthinkable that a Member should accept money for so-called 'favours'. I well remember being approached by a senior businessman who suggested that, in exchange for the princely sum of 250 guineas, I might ask a question of the then Minister for Health. 'Certainly not,' I said resolutely, 'though a lucrative annual consultancy paid by direct debit might aid the on-going wealth creation process. Next please.'

By the spring of '61, I had built up a fine portfolio of consultancy work. I was parliamentary adviser to over a dozen prestigious organisations, among them the Association for the Abandonment of Animal Quarantine, flagship of a Bogota-based pharmaceutical company, which was concerned that Britain was proving a sluggish market for their excellent anti-rabies product.

I was also the treasurer of the All-Party Philippine Support Group, formed to promote a more positive image for President Marcos and his vibrant lady wife, Imelda, and, to help in the expense of running a parliamentary constituency, a second home and a large swimming pool, I accepted some challenging consultancy work on behalf of a charity specialising in eviction, run by my old friend and quashing partner Peter Rachman. Add to this onerous list my various directorships - Maxwell Holdings, Bovine Spongiform (Development) Inc, Lonrho (Sweeteners) Ltd - and you will see how time-consuming my parliamentary work had become, and quite how necessary it was to ensure its smooth running with additional income.

In this way, I managed to maintain the contact with the world of commerce that is so essential if our Members of Parliament are not to bury themselves away in an ivory tower of tea-room banter. But this is all a million miles away from what one might jocularly term 'The Two Icks' (]]), ie, Messrs Tredinnick and Riddick. If ever I had been approached by an unsavoury newshound posing as a businessman, waving a wad of used fivers under my nose, there is not a shred of doubt in my mind as to what my reaction would have been. 'No, no, no - I do not now, nor will I ever, accept one-off payments for a democratic question,' I would have replied, without so much as a moment's hesitation. 'As you know full well, a gentleman may only accept a share of profits, or an annual stipend.' Alas, it is now commonly believed that some Members of Parliament are happy to argue any cause, however iffy, just so long as the price is right. If this is so, then things have changed since my day, when one would always struggle with one's conscience.

I well remember when first I was contacted in the early Seventies by a very senior figure in the Ugandan government. Following a serious round-table discussion at the Honolulu Pleasure Beach Hotel, Waikiki, followed by top-level conferences in Barbados and Juan-les-Pins, I finally agreed to act as President Amin's consultant at Westminster, but only after I had conducted strenuous investigations into the absolute integrity of his administration.

From my point of view, it was certainly never a case of getting 'something for nothing'. Over the course of the next three years, I tabled over 1,000 questions of a highly technical nature to the appropriate Ministers, among them:

'Will the Secretary of State give his most urgent consideration to transferring the resources of our National Health Service to downtown Kampala, where the climate is more appropriate to a prolonged period of convalescence?'

'Is it not high time the Treasury acknowledged our special relationship with Uganda by placing President Amin's head on the back of our new 50p piece?'

'Now that our new National Theatre has finally been completed, would it not be a generous gesture on the part of the Minister for the Arts to name its main auditorium after that great benefactor of the arts, President Idi Amin?'

Such questions contributed greatly to the cut-and-thrust of the democratic debate, and I was glad to have done my bit to have countered the media's negative image of one of the great developing African nations. Would Messrs Riddick and Tredinnick have made the same effort? I like to think that they would, but, for goodness sake, never for a shabby pounds 1,000]