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Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you received any request from the Home Secretary to make a statement on the extraordinary answer that he has given this afternoon on the Macpherson leak inquiry? As you know, the head of the Government's listening centre at GCHQ has been investigating the leak for two months. He concluded that the leak emanated from the Home Office, either from the Home Secretary, his Minister of State, their political advisers or a small number of civil servants. I think that we would all take the word of the Home Secretary, as an honourable man, that he did not do it. I do not believe for one moment that one of those few senior civil servants in the Home Office leaked it. We need a statement from the Home Secretary so that the House can question him about the involvement of the political advisers and his Minister of State and clear absolutely the few senior civil servants who are inadvertently fingered by this scandalous answer. I believe that the Home Secretary has today been making a statement on access to open government. The answer today is the biggest cover-up that we have seen.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): The right hon. Gentleman cannot use a point of order to make a speech. There has been no request from any Minister to make a statement. [Interruption.] Order. I can only state the facts as I have them. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's words will be noted by the Home Secretary.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Thank you for that ruling. It is a matter of record that the Home Secretary rightly made a statement on the Macpherson inquiry itself and rightly reported to the House when he interfered with the printing of The Sunday Telegraph when the leak was published. When the leak was clearly designed to destabilise the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis,

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for whom the Home Secretary is the police authority, it is not satisfactory for the matter to be left as it is. I hope that our words will reach the Government and that they will make a statement.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There is no further point of order because I have explained the situation. The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) has not raised a point of order that I can deal with but made a comment. Points of order should not be used to make speeches.

Mr. Forth rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that this is a point of order.

Mr. Forth: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your guidance? I understand that matters of such importance can be difficult at this time of day. As the House is sitting tomorrow, can you confirm that hon. Members could seek for Ministers to come to the House tomorrow to give account of themselves, thus giving them more notice than we can today?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as any hon. Member the opportunities for Back Benchers to make such requests.

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Parliamentary Democracy

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Madam Speaker has ruled that there will be a 10-minute allocation for Back Benchers. The amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition has been selected.

4.34 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I beg to move,

Even before I say a word, this motion has served a useful function because it has attracted an unprecedented number of Members to the Chamber on a Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heath: Let me say at least one or two sentences.

The motion may serve a further useful function, however unlikely it may seem, by uniting Conservative Members behind a common position for a fraction of a moment. The previous motion failed to do so; they were here but did not feel able to express an opinion.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Heath: I shall give way to many hon. Members later, but I would like to make some progress.

I want to quote a Conservative of some historical significance. I think that he is still kosher in Conservative circles. Benjamin Disraeli said:

He was right. Some have affected to say that this motion is unimportant and inappropriate. That is wrong. I challenge those who say that opposition in this Chamber is unimportant or trivial because it is only by the quality of the Opposition that we can test the mettle of the Government.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) rose--

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) rose--

Mr. Heath: I have a choice. I give way to the hon. Lady.

Mrs. Laing: If the hon. Gentleman considers that opposition is important, about which I agree, why is he not today opposing the Government?

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Mr. Heath: The hon. Lady poses me a conundrum. I have just gone through the Lobby to oppose the Government. She sat on her Bench not opposing the Government. Which of us was acting as an Opposition and which of us was omitting to perform our function?

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman is eager, and will have his turn, which I shall enjoy, but he must wait.

Regret has been expressed by some outside the Chamber that our motion did not specifically refer to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). They were looking forward to a debate on his performance as leader of the Conservative party. There are several reasons why we should not do that. First, in discussing the performance of political parties, we should deal with policies and the way in which they present their case and not with individuals.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. David Heath: I cannot resist the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Swayne: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that all opinion polling evidence reveals that most Liberal Democrat voters agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) on the single currency? Is not this motion really about the Liberal Democrats' fear of their voters and their attitude to the single currency?

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman is always entertaining and has lycanthropic tendencies that amuse us all. If he wants to discuss opinion polls, he will find it instructive to consider the popularity of his leader, that of the leader of my party and that of the Prime Minister, even with their own voters.

It is not right to criticise the Leader of the Opposition personally, nor do I want to provoke yet another of his relaunches. We had many from the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and now many from the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. They have had more relaunches than the Padstow lifeboat. They are getting to be tedious.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to another west country Member. My memory of the west country goes back a long way. I remember debating with the leader of his party when he spoke on behalf of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Yeovil in 1983. He puts forward the leader of his party as a model parliamentarian but how can he defend this quote from "Breakfast with Frost" on 15 May 1994 when the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) told David Frost:

Mr. Heath: I have to say--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The House is very noisy indeed this afternoon. I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman's speech and I want to hear it.

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Mr. David Heath: Conservative Members are doing half my job for me. [Interruption.] The Liberal Democrats have for a long time been in favour of a referendum on key European issues; we have always made that plain. Our party was the first to say that. I do not understand why the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton(Mrs. Browning) has a problem with that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) is the third reason why I must not attack the leader of the Conservative party; it is the policy of the Liberal Democrat party not to do so. We do not wish to undermine the Conservative leader; we leave that to those who are much better qualified to do so.

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