HC Deb 03 May 1985 vol 78 cc594-5 2.44 pm
Mr. Tony Blair: (Sedgefield)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order concerns both the rights and privileges of Members of Parliament, and the record of the House. When I have outlined the matter, I think that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is perhaps an extremely serious and, indeed, disgraceful episode.

On Monday I tabled a parliamentary question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking, in particular, whether there had been any disclosure of departures from normal banking practice in the Bank of England's inquiries into Johnson Matthey Bankers. Yesterday, a reply was sent to the House of Commons and was lodged in the Hansard office. A reply was also put on the Letter Board in the Members' Lobby, under my name. Copies of that reply were also put in the Press Gallery. Later yesterday, a Treasury official came to the House and withdrew those original replies. In particular, he withdrew the reply that appeared under my name on the Letter Board in the Members' Lobby, and substituted for it an answer saying that I would be given a reply in due course.

I am told that it has been accepted that that substitution and tampering with my mail actually took place. The immediate question is on whose instructions that tampering with my mail took place. I am informed—and I should be grateful, obviously, for confirmation of this—that it occurred subsequent to telephone conversations between the Treasury in London and Bonn. This morning, the record of the House appears not with the original reply, which was lodged in the Hansard office but with the substitute reply, saying that I would receive a reply in due course.

I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to rule on two separate points of order. First, I ask you to rule on whether the record of the House can stand with the substituted reply or whether the original reply should not be put in the record of the House as the true reply. Secondly, I ask you to rule on whether my rights as a Member of Parliament, and in particular my right to have my mail freely left in my possession, have been tampered with and whether there is action that can be taken on this issue.

You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this issue is obviously extremely serious, because of the way that these replies have come out and, in particular, because of the quite direct concealment of an original reply and its replacement with a reply that was less forthcoming. I seek your ruling.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Moore)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I unreservedly apologise through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the House. My Department acted in good faith in seeking to recover answers that had been sent over in error without the authority of any Minister. If a breach of the rules of the House has occurred, it was unintentional and is regretted. On behalf of our staff, I unreservedly apologise to the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Notwithstanding what the Minister has said, Mr. Speaker will doubtless look into the matter. Perhaps it is sensible to leave the matter there.

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When Mr. Speaker inquires into this issue, I hope that it will be pointed out to him that one of the root problems that has resulted in tampering with the mail of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is that the Government have consistently refused to divulge the report of the inquiry into Johnson Matthey Bankers. It would be extremely helpful if that could be drawn to Mr. Speaker's attention. When we get hold of that report and find out that some of the Government's Tory friends were involved in that crooked dealing, we shall know why my hon. Friend's mail was tampered with——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The content of ministerial replies is not a matter for Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it the view of Ministers that the Treasury official who did this should tell the truth and should be had up in court No. 2 at the Old Bailey?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps we should get on.