Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the Leader of the House clarify the Government's intentions with respect to the exchanges in the Chamber that followed the Division at 7 o'clock last night? On behalf of the Opposition, I and a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends pressed for an urgent oral statement, by the Secretary of State for Defence in the first instance, about the Colin Wallace scandal and the information released yesterday by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces that the House and right hon. and hon. Members had been misled both in parliamentary answers and in correspondence. No statement has been made today, and it is important that we know now from the Leader of the House what are the Government's intentions.
I make it clear to the Leader of the House that, although in the first place a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence may be appropriate, this sordid affair has wider implications than simply matters concerning the Ministry of Defence. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the integrity of the House and of hon. Members, and clearly we need an opportunity to debate also those much more serious and wider implications. Several Hon. Members rose --
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : In the light of the exchanges that tooplace in the House last night, the matter has been further considered. As the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) points out, the background extends over a long time. In the light of that consideration, I am able to tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will make a statement to the House tomorrow afternoon. I shall say nothing beyond that today.
Dr. Cunningham : The announcement made by the Leader of the House will be welcomed by all right hon. and hon. Members. I ask him to consider and to discuss through the usual channels how the House may proceed. I reiterate that, although in the first place we expected and welcome the decision that the Secretary of State for Defence should make a statement about the implications for his Department and its responsibilities in the matter, the House should have an opportunity to debate also the wider issues involved.
Column 310and he will be making his statement tomorrow at the first opportunity. I cannot indicate the scope of his statement, or how the points raised by the hon. Gentleman may be dealt with. The House must wait until my right hon. Friend's statement has been made.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a former Law Officer, the deputy Prime Minister will certainly appreciate the role of the Law Officers. May I ask whether Mr. David Calcutt's inquiry will benefit from the services of outside lawyers, or whether it will be dependent on "internal" civil servants from the Ministry of Defence? Could he clarify-- [Interruption.] Anyone who knows about the matter knows that--
Mr. Speaker : Order. We have all heard what the Leader of the House has said : a statement is to be made tomorrow. It is difficult for him to give definitive answers about such matters before he has heard the statement.
Mr. Leigh : As you know, Mr. Speaker, today is an Opposition day and a number of hon. Members wish to speak in important debates. We have received the clearest possible assurance that a full statement will be made tomorrow, at the earliest opportunity. Can we now move on? Opposition Members are trying to extend the discussion on the wrong occasion.
Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank the Leader of the House for saying that the Secretary of State for Defence is to make a statement tomorrow, but I urge him to recognise that the issue is much wider than it appears. It affects Members of Parliament-- including me, as it happens--and the parliamentary Labour party has expressed grave concern about the current developments. Can the Leader of the House say what procedure may be used to enable the matter to be more fully investigated in the House?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot anticipate all the questions that may or may not be put to my right hon. Friend or to others, and I certainly cannot at this stage answer questions such as that asked by the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme).
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Speaker : Order. This is not a matter for points of order. It has not been raised with me ; it was raised last night in the House, and the Leader of the House said then that he would tell the House today what he proposed to do. It is perfectly legitimate for hon. Members to seek further clarification, but let me repeat what was said by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) : until we have heard the definitive statement it would be extremely difficult, if not wrong, to ask the Leader of the House to give detailed replies.
Column 311Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is the Leader of the House aware that the issue being put to him now does not concern the Ministry of Defence statement, which is an internal disciplinary matter between Mr. Wallace and his former Department? It is a constitutional question, which I touched on last night and about which I wrote to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. For more than 20 years disinformation has been issuing from Government--
Mr. Benn : The Government have now admitted, for the first time ever, the existence of disinformation that has branded and blackened the reputations of the right hon. Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), two former Prime Ministers- -Wilson and Callaghan--my right hon. Friends the Members for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), and for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Colin Wallace should be brought before a Committee here, just as Colonel Oliver North was brought before Congress, to give evidence free from the threat of prosecution under the new official secrets legislation.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : For the avoidance of doubt, I responded to a point of order raised in the House last night, and returned to the House this afternoon to respond to a point of order raised by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). Because I had given no notice of a business statement, I intended to respond to remarks that I understood would be raised as a point of order, and I have intervened on a point of order to tell the House that which follows from the undertaking that I gave last night. There will be a statement tomorrow afternoon.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Favell : Yes, Mr. Speaker. Many Conservative Members are fed up to the back teeth with the bogus points of order raised by the Opposition. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House has already said that there will be a statement tomorrow. That is the time to raise questions. In the meantime, is it not about time that you, Mr. Speaker, laid down the rules-- [Interruption.]
Column 312You informed us that it was a business statement, Mr. Speaker. If it is not a business statement, I cannot ask my question.
Mr. Speaker : Order. I repeat that the Leader of the House has made a statement about a change of business tomorrow. As it is a matter of grave concern to both sides of the House, it is legitimate for right hon. and hon. Members to put questions to the Leader of the House about matters that he can answer, but not about the statement, which he does not know about.
Mr. Rees : When Ministers do not seem to understand what the Leader of the House has done, it is very difficult for us to act on it. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Defence is to make a statement on this important issue tomorrow and we look forward to it. However, it has implications for the Northern Ireland Office which do not seem to matter to some people. There are also implications for other Departments. When one aspect is dealt with tomorrow, other Secretaries of State should be present because there are other issues to be raised.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : On a totally different point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given you prior notice. On 12 June last year the House agreed the Select Committee report on televising the proceedings of the House. By agreeing that, we agreed to a degree of flexibility, provided that any variations were consistent with the reasonable assumptions which were made at the time the experiment was authorised. At the end of the main text there is a summary of conclusions and resolutions. In essence, those resolutions are the licence for broadcasters and the Select Committee. There are 87 such recommendations and conclusions. No. 31 states :
"Panning shots along the Benches should not be used."
You may have noticed in the news media today--
Mr. Speaker : Order. Question No. 214 on the Order Paper today in the name of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) is on this very matter. There is a Select Committee on the Televising of the House. If the hon. Gentleman has any complaints about the way in which the televising of the House is being operated, he should put them to the Select Committee. I cannot deal with them.
Mr. Marlow : You, Mr. Speaker, will have seen that we have had advance notice of the answer to that question. The advance notice says that the cameras shall be allowed to roam. If so, that is a degree of flexibility beyond the reasonable assumptions in the report, one of which states that panning shots should not be allowed.
Mr. Speaker : That is not a matter for me ; it is strictly a matter for the Select Committee on the televising of our proceedings. The hon. Gentleman would get a better answer from that Committee than he could possibly have from me, because I have no responsibility for it.
Column 313Select Committee which was approved by the House last year emphasised the rules that were issued for guidance were
"for the start of the experiment. They might need to be modified in the light of experience during the course of the trial period." It was made clear that it would
"fall to the Select Committee to adjudicate over the interpretation of the guidelines and to consider any reasonable modification which may prove necessary during the course of the experiment."
As the House would wish, the Select Committee has had the matter under continuous review. On Monday it reached some conclusions about certain modifications which were the subject of an answer to a written question on today's Order Paper.
I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North that the request for panning--one of the requests made by the forum--was not a request to which we acceded. If my hon. Friend studies the reply, he will discover the modifications that the Select Committee has approved and which I have reported to the House as soon as possible, consistent with the original report.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to bring to the attention of the House a very important matter relating to the proceedings in a Committee upstairs this morning with regard to the Official Secrets Act 1986 and the prescribing of certain organisations.
The Minister of State told me during the debate in Committee that the Comptroller and Auditor General, who as you know, Mr. Speaker, is an Officer of the House, would not have his status changed to that of a Crown servant. The importance of the point is that, if the Comptroller and Auditor General becomes a Crown servant under the order that was debated in Committee this morning, we would be hampering seriously the Public Accounts Committee. I know that that would be a matter of serious concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. Therefore, I should like you, Mr. Speaker, to look into the status of the Comptroller and Auditor General in relation to the order this morning and the Official Secrets Act 1986.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was a member of the Standing Committee to which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hill, West (Mr. Randall) referred. I am afraid to say that his account of the proceedings was not in accordance with what the Minister said. I am sure that that will be perfectly clear to you, Mr. Speaker, when you examine the matter.
Column 314recall took place a short time ago, I, my hon. Friends, the Members for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) and for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) and others tried to raise issues of vital concern to our constituents relating to questions that we tabled two weeks ago. I wanted to raise the matter of the Stranraer to Euston sleeper. I tried to raise the matter on suitable questions earlier, but I was not called, as is your right, Mr. Speaker, and we did not reach my question No. 21.
Scottish Question Time is my only opportunity to raise constituency matters on the Floor of the House. However, a large number of Conservative Members from south of the border with no constituency interests asked questions. I realise that this is a United Kingdom Parliament, but you have a responsibility to allow us an opportunity to ask constituency questions. I am not suggesting a language test, but I hope that you will bear this matter in mind when you call hon. Members during Scottish Question Time.
Mr. Speaker : I am aware of the desire in the House to make quicker progress at Question Time. However, that inevitably means fewer supplementaries and, so far as the Chair is concerned, this is constrained with the number of Front-Bench spokesmen. I do not criticise that, but I must bear it in mind in the interests of Back Benchers.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like your guidance. As you know, the Secretary of State for Defence is to make a statement tomorrow. Many hon. Members would like the opportunity at that time to deal with allegations that have been made about the way in which the Security Service had been and perhaps remains out of control. The Minister who will respond tomorrow is not the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary. Allegations and substantial smears have been made, and they must be answered. Will you ensure that we will be able to widen the issue of allegations about the Security Service? If not, the Home Secretary, or the Prime Minister, who is the head of the Security Service, should be on the Front Bench to answer questions.
Mr. Speaker : Perhaps I can give guidance to the whole House on this matter. Tomorrow there will be an opportunity not only to question the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Question Time but to question the Leader of the House during business questions. Of course, there will then be the statement itself. There will also be Northern Ireland questions. There will be plenty of opportunities to deal with this matter.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Yes, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, following the Christmas recess, I returned to the House and raised the matter of the commercial interests and directorships of Conservative Members of Parliament. Since that date, which is almost a month ago,
Column 315I have sat through every Question Time and almost every statement in the Commons, and I have risen in my place on more than 300 occasions to be called on supplementary questions. It is being said in my constituency that it appears that the Speaker is carrying out sanctions against me by refusing to call me on supplementary questions-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker : Order. That is an unworthy charge to make against the Chair ; the whole House will accept that. I do not think that, in general, the hon. Member is deprived in any way. He is regularly in the Chamber, and he has every opportunity to participate in our debates and at Question Time. He needs only to see his computer print-out, which I will gladly send him.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Through you, I raise with the Leader of the House, the fundamental question whether the Secretary of State for Defence is the correct Minister to make the statement tomorrow. I draw to your attention the fact that a briefing that was given by the Prime Minister's press secretary to journalists today indicated that the Prime Minister herself might have been misled by previous statements made to her by civil servants as a result of which a parliamentary answer was given.
First, if that is correct, and if the security services are involved, as seems to be the general assumption, are you aware that in the Security Service Act 1989 there is no ministerial responsibility for the security services on the part of the Secretary of State for Defence? Therefore, why is the Secretary of State for Defence to make the statement? Secondly, if a wrong parliamentary answer was given by the Prime Minister herself, surely it is not necessarily within the ambit of the Ministry of Defence for the statement to be made. It seems to raise far wider constitutional questions. The Leader of the House should at least consider whether a different Minister should answer these questions tomorrow.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to raise a matter of which I have given you notice--the great anxiety about the future of Kashmir and the danger of civil war there. You will know better than most hon. Members that tens of thousands of British citizens are of Kashmiri origin and that thousands more have settled here and have lived here
Column 316for many years. They are extremely anxious about the safety of their relatives and friends and are desperately worried about the future of Kashmir.
I should like your advice, Mr. Speaker, on how you can be given authority to write to the Speakers of the Indian and Pakistani Parliaments expressing the hope of British citizens of Kashmiri origin and your belief that every effort should be made to bring about a peaceful solution and to secure the future of Kashmir. How can the House give you authority to send such a message?
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that it is your job as Speaker to examine breaches of privilege in the House and that they are no longer raised on the Floor of the House but are put in writing to you for a judgment on whether such a breach has occurred? There may be breaches of privilege in the statement tomorrow. I ask you to bear that in mind because, if there are, I and, I believe, several other hon. Members will write to you.
Mr. Marlow : Further to the point of order raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House. He drew attention to paragraph 98 of the Select Committee report, which is part of the subsidiary text of the report. Within the report various items have been highlighted and transferred to the summary of conclusions and recommendations.
The Leader of the House spoke about the powers of the Select Committee, which are subject to the will of the House. The House agreed fundamentally with the summary of conclusions and recommendations, which takes precedence over paragraph 98. It says : "Panning shots along the Benches should not be used."
On behalf of the House, will you look carefully at the report and the proposals of my right hon. and learned Friend and give the House your advice on the matter tomorrow? I submit that the Select Committee seeks to exceed its powers.
Mr. Speaker : I shall certainly look carefully at the report. We all have our views on the impact of television on our proceedings. The hon. Member heard the reply of the Leader of the House. He should take up the matter with the Select Committee or during business questions tomorrow..
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have listened carefully to what you said about the way in which the televising of the House is being changed. You have to keep an eye on it. You have had more than a little difficulty today. I think that there is a way out of it. You could kill two birds with one stone by allowing the cameras to zoom in close on the Prime Minister so that she can make a statement to clarify how she was misled in the Colin Wallace affair and we can ask her questions.
Column 317Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Member is ingenious, but that is not ingenious enough. We should move on because we have a heavy day before us.
Several Hon. Members rose