HC Deb 23 May 1977 vol 932 cc1013-6
Mr. Wrigglesworth

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the action of the Daily Mail in publishing a forged letter purporting to implicate the Government and the National Enterprise Board in allegations of bribery by British Leyland". The matter I seek leave to have debated is specific. It is the publication of a pernicious forged letter which it was claimed had been written by Lord Ryder, Chairman of the NEB, to Mr. Alex Park, chief executive of British Leyland. The letter sought to give the impression that the Government, Lord Ryder and Mr. Park condoned, indeed approved, a worldwide web of bribery and conspiracy run by British Leyland to defraud foreign Governments. The Secretary of State for Industry made a statement about the matter last Thursday, but the revelation that the letter is a forgery has been made since the House rose on Friday.

This is a matter of the utmost importance. The House will remember the repercussions of the Lockheed scandal for countries such as Japan and Holland. Had the letter been genuine, it would almost certainly have led to the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. It might even have led to the downfall of the Government.

As the International Herald Tribune pointed out last week, the allegations were made only 11 days after our Prime Minister signed a pledge, made at Downing Street by the major nations of the West, aimed at stamping out international corruption. If the letter had been true, this country and Government would have been seen throughout the world to have acted dishonestly and dishonourably, to have attempted deliberately to mislead and cheat our partners in the West.

In addition, the letter could also damage our export performance. In all these circumstances there was a clear obligation on the Daily Mail to check—indeed, to double check—the authenticity of the letter. In my view, the Daily Mail did not do so adequately, and it is therefore guilty of gross irresponsibility.

I believe that the matter is urgent because it is difficult to expunge the memory of a filthy smear of this sort. Speedy action is needed if this matter is nor to be allowed to fester. In addition, the House needs to consider the position of the newspaper and the editor who allowed these allegations to be published.

This is not the first time that the Daily Mail has published a forged letter. Should this newspaper be allowed to publish such documents with impunity? Should a Select Committee of this House be established to go into the whole matter?

I believe that the House should give urgent consideration to these weighty matters. It is not possible to raise them by other means, as the recess begins on Friday. Therefore, I earnestly appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to allow them to be considered under Standing Order No. 9.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purposes of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the action of the Daily Mail in publishing a forged letter purporting to implicate the Government and the National Enterprise Board in allegations of bribery by British Leyland". As the House knows, I am directed to take into account all the factors set out in the Standing Order, but to give no reason for my decision. It is not for me to decide whether this matter should be debated, but whether it should have precedence today or tomorrow.

I have given careful consideration to the representations made by the hon. Gentleman, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

Mr. Mendelson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the opinion expressed when the Standing Order was changed, namely, that an earlier opportunity should be provided to discuss urgent matters, and the hope that that widened opportunity, which has been agreed by the House, should be employed before the country's interest is lost in such matters, is it not possible for you to consider whether a matter such as this, which could stain the honour of the Head of one of Her Majesty's Departments and impede the conduct of Her Majesty's general affairs, should be debated before the relevant time has passed? In other words, will you not reconsider your decision?

Mr. Corbett

On a point or order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has a point of order and is not rising to ask me to change my mind. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Because I have given my ruling, and the rule stands.

Mr. Corbett

Is there any advice you can give, Mr. Speaker, on how a Member of Parliament, representing a constituency that contains a British Leyland subsidiary employing 1,100 of my constituents, can obtain your protection against the irresponsible actions of the editor of a national newspaper? I in no way seek to question your ruling, but I am asking whether there is any way open to an hon. Member to see that this matter is brought into the open.

Mr. Speaker

I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman knows the parliamentary means that are open to him, and I cannot add to them.