Sir Edward Heath: Operation Conifer Debate

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Department: Home Office
Wednesday 17th January 2024

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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It a privilege to take part in this debate and I begin by adding my thanks to those of others to my noble friend Lord Lexden. He has been persistent and tenacious, and time and again he has raised this matter on the Floor of your Lordships’ House. Time and again we have had answers from the Minister on duty at the time, including the present Chief Whip when she was Home Office Minister, refusing to have the sort of inquiry that is being called for today by almost everyone who has spoken—but never has a proper, logical and coherent reason been given for that refusal.

I would compare my noble friend Lord Lexden in some way with another parliamentary hero of recent days, my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot. Yesterday, we had a debate on the Post Office scandal, and of course my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot contributed to that debate. I cannot for the life of me understand why, in light of the things that have been revealed about that appalling miscarriage of justice, we still have these stonewalling, negative answers from Ministers. If only Ministers, at the beginning of the Post Office accusations, had looked at the fact that here was a group of people with a collective reputation for probity, and an individual one in their own local villages and side streets, et cetera, and asked how they had suddenly become a nest of criminal vipers. It is absolutely ludicrous, yet Minister after Minister refused to probe. The whole thing is appalling.

Here we have a different case. We have a great statesman—and he was a great statesman. He was also an awkward cuss in many ways. I did not know him anywhere near as well as my noble friends Lord Waldegrave and Lord Hunt, but he stayed in our house on one or two occasions and did dinners for me in my constituency. He could be the life and soul of the party and then could suddenly clam up. However, the fact is that he was a great statesman who served his country and changed its course—would that we could go back, as my noble friend Lord Waldegrave said, but we cannot. But what we can do is restore the reputation of a man who has been traduced by evil people saying evil things.

The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, quoted Carl Beech, that reptilian character who has caused such anguish to people most of us knew, including Lord Brittan, who died with a dark cloud over him, and his widow. There was Lord Bramall, whose wife died before he did and did not fully understand what was going on; and Sir Edward Heath, a great statesman who served his country, as I said. Collectively and individually, we owe him a lot. Above all, we owe him justice, even if it is posthumous.

I understood the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh; it was an eloquent speech and he tried to make it balanced—but he failed, I think, because I honestly believe that my noble friend Lord Lexden’s call for an inquiry must be answered positively if we are going to give justice to the reputation of a great man.

So I beg my noble friend—I have done so before in Question Time, but I do so now in support of my noble friend Lord Lexden and other noble friends and noble Lords from all over your Lordships’ House. We say that the Government does have a duty to do what the Wiltshire police and crime commissioner in 2019 asked for. He said that the Government can do this. They should do this. I would go much further and say that the Government must do this.

As for the precise form it takes—whether it is appointing a High Court judge to investigate—there are various ways they could approach this. There is a very black stain on government and Parliament’s reputation unless we honour the memory of Sir Edward by making sure that this farrago of lies and nonsense is shown to be precisely that. I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is, and we owe it not only to the memory of Sir Edward Heath but to ourselves to do this and to do it quickly. I beg my noble friend to give a positive reply for once when he winds up the debate.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I did not say that it was a local matter; I said that it was for the local force to decide whether they considered that to be appropriate. I think that is an important distinction. I accept that—

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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Will my noble friend, at the very least, do as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, requested and give the Home Secretary a copy of this debate, and underline how unanimous the general sentiment in this House was? Will he do one other thing? Will he ask the Home Secretary to receive a deputation of Members of your Lordships’ House who have taken part in this debate?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I say to my noble friend that I am coming to that in a second.

I have to a large degree retraced a lot of old ground, which is perhaps only to be expected when considering a question that we have already discussed many times. I am reconciled to the fact that this will obviously annoy and disappoint my noble friend Lord Lexden—