HC Deb 20 January 1986 vol 90 cc35-7
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. In light of the fact that we have been told that certain documents are not to be made available to the Select Committees on Defence and Trade and Industry, I would like to raise a point of order following upon your ruling in column 1211 of the Official Report of 16 January when, following a point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), in which he referred to quotes from official documents and the need for those documents to be placed in the Library, you said in your ruling: I do not think that there was a quotation from a document. You then went on to say in the same column: that if Ministers quote from an official document, as opposed to paraphrasing an official document, it is our rule that that official document should be laid. You did not include letters and memoranda. In column 1212, the Prime Minister, in an intervention, said: The first thing is, therefore, to check Hansard to see whether what was said was given as a direct quote from the document. That is the first thing that we must find out. What follows from that is a matter for the House, not for me. In cloumn 1214, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said: Since a reading of that column nowhere suggests that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was quoting from any document other than the notes of his speech, this is not a matter that should detain us any longer."—[Official Report, 16 January 1986; Vol. 89, c. 1211–1214.] You concurred with that view, Mr. Speaker.

The quotation that was being examined is to be found in column 1167 of 15 January. It reads: At that meeting, Sir John Cuckney referred to what he described as the Government's preference for a European minority shareholder in Westland. I said that a European minority shareholder was in both the commercial and political interests of the Government."—[Official Report, 15 January 1986; Vol. 89, c. 1167.]

That is a quote by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Parts of that statement are from the official document. They are drawn from a letter, which is precluded under the arrangements as outlined in "Erskine May", but equally from a minute. That minute exists. It is known to Members of the House. I quote from that minute where it meets exactly the words as spoken by the Secretary of State. The words are: The Government's preference for a European minority shareholder in Westland", and, secondly, a European minority shareholder was in both the commercial and political interests of the Government". Those are direct quotes.

I have consulted my hon. Friends, Mr. Speaker, and during the course of the speech by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State he actually referred to documents which were before him. It was clear that he was quoting. It may be that in the Official Report it was not printed as a quote, but it was a quote. It may be that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry sought not to represent what he was saying as a quote. but it was a quote.

In so far as it was a quote—

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Member come to his point of order, because 33 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are anxious to get on to the next debate?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am sure that the House will bear with me. It is a point of order about a matter of great public controversy.

My point of order is simply to establish whether, in the light of what I said, and in so far as the Minister was not paraphrasing, as you suggested to the House that he might be, in so far as he was quoting directly, you would now intervene, Mr. Speaker, and make a ruling as to whether that document should be laid on the Table, as is required in our manual on procedure? This is referred to specifically on page 433 of "Erskine May", where it says: A Minister of the Crown may not read or quote from a dispatch or other state paper not before the House unless he is prepared to lay it upon the Table. Similarly, it has been accepted that a document which has been cited by a Minister ought to be laid upon the Table of the House, if it can be done without injury to the public interests. A Minister who summarises a correspondence"— which was not being done in this case; it was being referred to specifically— but does not actually quote from it, is not bound to lay it upon the Table. The rule for the laying of cited documents does not apply to private letters or memoranda. We are referring here to a minute, Mr. Speaker, and I put it to you that you might care, following the fullest consideration, to rule.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the end, it is a matter of interpretation. Is it not right that during the debate to which the hon. Member referred no one from the Labour Benches rose to assert that a direct quotation was being made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I did.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If a Minister makes a short statement of Government policy, obviously, from time to time and coincidentally, that statement can be found in confidential documents. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is that every document, every secure, confidential Cabinet document should be placed before the House. That is manifest nonsense.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You heard what the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) had to say about no one from the Labour Benches rising to challenge the Secretary of State at the time that he was reading from those documents. That statement is not correct because, at the time that the Secretary of State was making that statement, there were several of us—and I was sitting about four places below—shouting from our seats and standing up, calling to the Secretary of State that he was reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was also on his feet, making the same point. "Lay it on the Table" is what we were saying. I think that it would be sensible, Mr. Speaker, for you as Speaker to look into the request made by my hon. Friend so that we can make absolutely sure that the matter is dealt with properly.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The panic on the Government Benches certainly seems to justify the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has raised. It has been referred to previously in the House, and several Members have asserted that they actually saw the Minister reading from a document. Clearly, we do not want to prejudge the issue. Can we ask you, Sir, to ask for sight of that document and to look at it in that light? If not, Sir, you will have to tell us how we judge whether something is a quote. If a Minister happens to bring a document, as is suggested, to the Dispatch Box, reads a piece of it and does not submit it to Hansard when he gives his speech notes, as is normal, this is a way of evading the controls that "Erskine May" envisaged. I ask you to take this away, not to give a judgment immediately, but to come back and give us a ruling on whether it was a quotation.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Chair must interpret the rules and the rules, as set out in "Erskine May", have been fairly and fully quoted by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). If the Minister was quoting from a document, it is his duty to lay it. I shall look at Hansard, but I have no means of interpreting what was in the Minister's mind and whether he was or was not quoting. That is a matter for him. I am concerned only about the rules of the House and I shall faithfully follow them.