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Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, as some of your Lordships will know, under the conditions suggested I too did not think it right to have any access to the report until a few minutes ago. Therefore, I have had no more opportunity to look at it than the overwhelming majority of your Lordships' House, except for some Members of the Government. In those circumstances, I would think it no more appropriate to comment in detail upon the report than I would to review a book which I had picked up in a bookshop and handled for a few minutes. What I can say is that it is very large, very expensive and appears to be nicely printed. I will reserve more serious comments for the debate.
The Government have gone to remarkable lengths to impose a degree of ludicrous and insulting secrecy upon one of the most elite reports in the history of reports. It is extraordinary that in these circumstances the Government should choose this afternoon, through the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister who has repeated the Statement in this House, to make a Statement of considerable length and quite exceptional density, complexity and tendentiousness. I find it very difficult to believe that any noble Lord not having a copy of the Statement in his hand could possibly have told when the Minister was quoting from Sir Richard Scott and when he was giving the ex-parte view of the Government.
I do not propose to pronounce on the detail of the report until I have read it. I did not go through it as much as did the noble Lord, Lord Richard, but it so happens that it almost fell open at page 504, paragraph D4.60. That gives a very different impression from what we have heard this afternoon. One's memory goes back to the presentation of the Franks Report on the conduct of the Falklands War at the end of 1982 or the beginning of 1983. I pay tribute to the press officer of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, because a most successful news operation was mounted, which meant that the immediate impact of that report on the afternoon and evening was very different from that which emerged in subsequent days.
A much more fundamental question lies behind that. It is how the Government react to the overwhelming exposure in the evidence--and from what was read out by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I believe that a good deal will come out of the report--of a culture of excessive secrecy; of a miasma of half truths and occasional untruths; and of the love of an opaque screen, almost for its own sake, about the decision-making process. That has come out in the evidence. That habit has not produced particularly effective government in this country. It has certainly contributed to the alienation of the public from the political process.
I have a very specific question to ask. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal told us two days ago that he was not among the Ministers to see an advanced copy, so that is obviously the case. Clear discriminatory and perhaps rational decisions were made as to who should see it and who should not. Will the Minister tell us whether Dr. Mawhinney, the Chairman of the Conservative Party, was among those who received the report eight days ago? Upon that answer will substantially turn whether the advance distribution was in the self-defence of threatened Ministers or for a massive news management exercise in which Dr. Mawhinney is rather pathetically thought to be expert.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I wish to deal absolutely head on with the quite disgraceful allegations that have been made about access in advance of publication. As occurred on a previous occasion when the Learmont Report was published, particular arrangements were made for the Shadow Home Secretary which exactly mirrored the timing that was available and the circumstances offered today. What happened was that the Shadow Home Secretary at least had the courtesy to thank the Minister for making those exceptional arrangements.
As regards these arrangements, as I am sure noble Lords appreciate, Lord Justice Scott was insistent that prior to the publication of his report there should be only very limited access. He required that those who were to see the report should be notified to him. When we wished to allow access to both noble Lords who have just spoken, the President of the Board of Trade had to write to Sir Richard Scott to ask to be relieved from his obligation to disclose it to no other persons and we then managed to secure that opportunity.
But one individual who was not given the opportunity to see that report and who was not afforded the opportunity even to give an undertaken of secrecy was the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Dr. Brian Mawhinney. Therefore, no effort was made by the Government to make it impossible for those who wished to have limited access. I hope that noble Lords who have spent so much time on that matter will appreciate that, in describing the events as outrageous in the vernacular, it is they who are rubbishing Scott, not anyone on behalf of the Government.
Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is telling us how generous the Government were in relation to access to the report. He will know that my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting that, far from having the report at 12 noon, access should be given under those terms and conditions at nine o'clock in the morning. Having seen the size of the report, will the noble and learned Lord tell us why that request was not acceded to?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, if the noble Lord wishes to dig a deeper hole for himself, far be it from me to stop him. But I understand that what we proposed as being the appropriate arrangements were very much what Lord Justice Scott considered to be appropriate.
Of course I appreciate that, even if the document had been available at nine o'clock in the morning, as it has 2,000 pages clearly it would be extremely difficult to do more than skim it. But the point that needs to be grasped is that this is a Statement which accompanies the publication of the report. I believe that I have set out fully and fairly what are the Government's initial reactions to it. I should have thought that it would be welcome and useful to your Lordships' House to have some indication of those recommendations that are accepted without question; those areas on which we think there should be further debate; those areas on which we should go out to consultation; and those areas where we consider that we must, with respect, disagree with Lord Justice Scott. That seems to me a proper way to approach the matter, particularly in view of the fact that we have arranged that on 26th February there will be a full debate on this matter in both Houses of Parliament. We shall then have the opportunity for an informed debate on what is contained in the report.
Perhaps I may deal with two particular matters that were raised by the noble Lords who have spoken. In relation to the PII certificates, I took some time in the Statement to indicate that not only did the Attorney-General have the advice of eminent and independent counsel but he understood that he was
The short, simple conclusion should be that, had the Attorney-General decided to go against that independent and eminent advice from counsel, he would have been utterly perverse in the discharge of his duties as Attorney-General. Therefore, I invite the noble Lord to study very carefully what is said in the report about public interest immunity because in my heart of hearts I believe that he will probably accept that the view which the Attorney-General took of the law in 1988, 1989 and 1992 would probably be the same as his own.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, if the noble Lord finds it difficult to read the whole of the report, he may like to read what I said in the Statement, when I gave an indication of where the very issue of class claims was first considered. If the noble Lord does that he will understand what was the law. He will readily appreciate that subsequent to that there has been a development of the law culminating in the recent ex parte Wiley case.
The noble Lord said also that he considered it to be quite clear that the policy set out in the guidelines had changed. I accept that that is one of the central issues in this report. There are two points that I make about that in repetition of what I said in the Statement. First, those three Ministers who looked at it, and looked in particular at the third of the guidelines which referred to significant enhancement and contained the words "in our view", took the view then that they were justifiably using the flexibility contained within those guidelines. Sir Richard Scott does not agree with that view of it, but he says that Ministers who were looking at the matter then did not do so in the belief that they were changing the policy and he said expressly that they did not do so with "duplicitous intention". I hope that I have answered fully the questions put by both noble Lords. But, really, if access is the only matter, it seems to me that that is a thin response to the report.
Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, as no one else has risen to speak, I am happy to do so for a moment. It seems to me that the Government have been in power for so long that they simply have no appreciation of the offence that they cause to senior Privy Counsellors who are asked to subscribe to conditions that I regard as being absolutely offensive and demeaning. I fully understand why my noble friend Lord Richard and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, behaved as they did. I probably would have done the same.
That is a minor matter in one sense. The other matter I wish to raise is, I suppose, relatively minor. I believe that the Statement we heard repeated is close to an abuse of normal, parliamentary procedure. It was not wholly, as it should have been, a Statement of the Government's reactions to the report. It was an attack on some honourable Members of another place, which is quite out
Those two matters are procedural. The third matter I find a little difficult to understand is that, if I understood the noble and learned Lord correctly-- I experienced some difficulty in deciding when he was quoting from the report and when he was reading the Statement--Lord Justice Scott came to the conclusion that, when writing letters, the Ministers concerned not only had no intention of deceiving anyone, but also did not realise that there was a difference between what they were writing and the lines of policy that had been laid down.
I am sure that both Ministers will be very relieved at that decision--I would certainly not wish to dissent from anything if that is so--but there is something which puzzles me. Is there any information given in the report, or any reason suggested, as to why a highly intelligent man like Mr. Waldegrave, a Fellow of All Souls and a man of the utmost intellectual distinction, should not have recognised that what he was writing was different from the policy that had been laid down? It seems awfully difficult to understand that someone of that distinction should not recognise the fact that what he was saying was different from the policy to which he had agreed. Is there any explanation?
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