HC Deb 16 November 1971 vol 826 cc224-6
Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order. I tried earlier, Mr. Speaker, to draw your attention to the fact that while hon. Members were not allowed to have the Compton Report until four o'clock, other people, not Members of Parliament, had seen it and had copies of it. There are full details of the Home Secretary's statement in the midday papers. In the Evening Standard there is a report under the name of Robert Carvel, and I quote inter aliaIn an obvious attempt to muffle the parliamentary explosion Home Secretary Reginald Maudling arranged to make a statement to M.P.S just before they got their hands on copies of the Compton report. That is raising intelligent anticipation to a very high level. The report goes on to give details and to say that a committee will be set up and that a special Cabinet meeting was held this morning at which was discussed the name of the distinguished figure who will head the new inquiry, that it was to be a judge, and so on.

Is it not a complete contempt of the House not only to refuse to allow hon. Members to have the report, but to see that members of the Press get copies, to brief them and to allow them to know that the Home Secretary would deliberately try to muzzle hon. Members? If we get to the stage where the Government, while speaking of Press censorship, try to use the Press to circumvent the rights of hon. Members, we shall be fast becoming the same as the Reichstag. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider this, perhaps not now, but at your leisure—if you ever have any—to see whether something can be done to stop the Government from trying to ride roughshod over hon. Members.

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Gentleman bring the newspaper to the Table?

Mr. Maddan

Further to that point of order. May we ask you, Mr. Speaker, to use your authority to have inquiries made and to inform the House whether advance copies of the Compton Report were made available to the Opposition?

Mr. Callaghan

Further to that point of order. As neither I nor any of my colleagues have had the pleasure of seeing the Compton Report or the Evening Standard, in view of the serious revelations which, apparently, Mr. Carvel discloses, would the Prime Minister seek to make a statement to the House telling us whether any advance information about the appointment of this Committee of Privy Councillors and the distinguished judge who is to head it was given to the Press?

I do not know how Mr. Carvel could otherwise possibly have deduced this information, any more than any of the rest of us could. Would the Prime Minister consider this matter, because there has clearly been either a Press briefing or a leak. If there has been a Press briefing, the House will have to consider whether this is a sensible way in which to conduct our debates and if there has been a leak, the Prime Minister himself will be concerned.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

The answer to the second question depends on your decision, Mr. Speaker, today or tomorrow, following the representations which have been made to you.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House and I quite understand if he was not aware of the facts, but the customary procedure with the Leader of the Opposition himself was pursued and he naturally had a copy beforehand.

Mr. Speaker

This has been raised as a matter of contempt, and I will rule upon that tomorrow.