§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Malone.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State for Defence I must announce that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in this important debate, including no fewer than seven Privy Councillors. I therefore propose to apply the 10 minute limit on speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger)
The trigger for our debate today is, of course, the Government's reply, published in one Command Paper, to the third and fourth reports from the Select Committee on Defence. I will come back to the fourth report, but I propose to concentrate first on the third report and that part of the Government's reply which dealt with the matters discussed in the third report. The third report takes as its subject a matter with which we should all be deeply concerned—the defence implications of the future of Westland.
The House is indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) and his Committee for a clear and cogent exposition of the defence issues, based on wide and deep research. As Cmnd. 9916 makes clear, the Government agree with much of the Committee's analysis. Inevitably there are points on which we cannot go the whole way with the Committee, but this does not prevent us from recognising the report as a major contribution to thinking on the subject, and one which is already proving valuable in helping us to form our own views.
The Committee rightly points out that the helicopter has an established place in both maritime and land and air warfare, and that its existing range of capabilities is gradually being extended. Both the existing roles and their extension were vividly demonstrated during the Falklands conflict and its aftermath, when helicopters were not only employed for anti-submarine warfare, amphibious assault, reconnaissance and surveillance, rapid movement of troops about the battlefield, re-supply and evacuation of casualties, but were adapted at short notice to remedy our lack of airborne early warning. At the same time, the helicopter has its vulnerabilities—to air defence systems, direct fire, attack by other helicopters and so forth. As the Committee has observed, the helicopter is not yet able to replace an entire capability in the land-air battle. For example, attack helicopters must complement ground-based, long-range direct-fire weapons rather than replacing them.
The problem for defence planners, and for Ministers, is therefore to define their place within a programme of balanced capabilities, and also, equally important, within the constraints of availability of funds. Against this background, I believe that the Committee's comment that quantity has been sacrificed for quality is a little severe.
It is true that numerically the three services' holdings of helicopters are a little lower than a decade ago—some 850 in total compared with 940 in 1975—but the reduction is not large, and the overall capability has actually increased through acquisition by all three services of new and more powerful types, for example, the Navy's anti-submarine Lynx, with its greatly increased range and 340 torpedo-carrying capability compared with its predecessor the Wasp; the Army's Lynx, armed with Tow missiles, and carrying a much greater clout in the anti-tank role than the Scout which it replaced; and the RAF's Chinook, each of which can carry 55 fully equipped troops—and indeed carried more in the Falklands. I believe that the record shows us to have given the helicopter a very good priority in the defence programme and to have built up our capability in this key arm of warfare.
Furthermore, improved types of helicopter feature prominently in our future programme. The new antisubmarine helicopter, the Anglo-Italian EH101, is a high priority project to which we are firmly committed. Its higher payload will enable it to operate effectively at the very long ranges necessary to deal with hostile submarines equipped with stand-off weapons and sophisticated defences. It will thus exploit to the full the improved sensors and weapons that will be in service in the next decade, and thereby will enhance the protection given to allied shipping.
Westland and its partner, Agusta, plan to develop three versions of the helicopter— naval, passenger and utility —so as to enable the development costs to be spread over larger sales, thereby increasing value for money.
Our second requirement is for a new light attack helicopter in the anti-tank role to replace Lynx fitted with Tow. Entry into service is planned for the late 1990s and the programme is thus at a somewhat earlier stage than EH101. Nevertheless, good progress is being made.
Together with our partners— Italy, the Netherlands and Spain—we have recently signed two memoranda of understanding: one laying down the framework for collaboration on the Agusta Al29 light attack helicopter and the other covering a joint feasibility and cost definition study, which is expected to start shortly and take two years to complete. I hope and expect that this project, too, will come to fruition in due course.
The most difficult issue facing my Department concerns support helicopters. The RAF operates the Wessex and the Puma in this role, as well as the Chinook. Within the next 10 years both Wessex and Puma will be approaching the end of their cost-effective lives as they become progressively more expensive to operate.
There is no absolute cut-off date: given the necessary overhaul and updating most helicopters can be kept going for a long time—and the timing of any successor system is therefore, to some extent, a matter of discretion. There is also a major prior question: for what range of tasks do we want to use support helicopters? Only when we have answered that question can we go on to decide what kinds of helicopters we need, and how many of them.
The Committee has commented that the delay in formulating the support requirement has exacerbated the problems faced by Westland as the only British helicopter manufacturer. I am aware that there has been some criticism of our decision early last year to leave decisions on air staff target 404 in abeyance, and I should like to put this matter into perspective. A staff target is no more than a broad statement of the functions and desired performance of a new piece of equipment, made before the feasibility or method of meeting such a need have been assessed. It is in no sense a fully defined requirement.
This particular staff' target dates back to 1978, and it came into particular prominence in 1980 when my Department, very sensibly, considered whether a common 341 helicopter could be found to carry out both the antisubmarine and the support tasks. The conclusion then was that this was undersirable, and EH101 went ahead as a separate programme.
Meanwhile, it remained fully open to the Ministry of Defence to reassess the military requirement if new evidence came along to warrant it. This is precisely what happened. The experience of Exercise Lionheart in the autumn of 1984, and the new thinking it stimulated about the army's helicopter needs, are well described in the Committee's report—[Interruption.] I would just say to the Opposition that the Select Committee spent a great deal of time and energy on this study. Those hon. Members who devoted so much time to it will take considerable exception to its being treated with such levity.
It was therefore necessary for the defence staff to go back to the drawing board and to undertake a fundamental study to review the military requirement for support helicopters. This study is looking a long way ahead—in fact as far as the year 2010. It is considering what changes in support helicopter roles and capabilities can be expected up to that date, how support helicopter assets can be used most effectively to fulfil these roles and, in the light of this, what the best force mix would be. On the basis of this, a force mix is to be recommended.
As the Select Committee has recognised, these issues are bound up with the question of the army's air mobility needs. We have noted carefully the Committee's preliminary view that there is a very good case for fulfilling a fully air mobile brigade, and this is being borne in mind in our studies.
The Committee has stressed the importance of resolving these matters quickly. Certainly I accept that. We shall continue to work as rapidly as possible on the military issues and on their consequences for procurement and for the defence programme. A key aspect of this is affordability.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
My right hon. Friend has put clearly before the House the military issues that are at stake and the decisions to be made about when and what type of new light support helicopter will be required. Is it not a fact, however, that work is needed now at Westland because the EH101 programme cannot fill the available capacity at the Westland plants?
§ Mr. Younger
I am keenly aware of that point, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to it. I assure him that I shall be dealing with that later in my speech. As I have already said, a key aspect of this is affordability. One cannot state military requirements in a financial vacuum, and resources are tight. I cannot at this stage forecast what our decisions will be or what their consequences may be for Westland, but I recognise the need to resolve this as quickly as possible and I can tell the House that the decision on the future needs of the services in this area will be taken in the new year.
Meanwhile, I very much welcome the Committee's commendation of our decision to carry out a fundamental reappraisal of our requirements before committing ourselves to procurement. I think the House will recognise that we would have been failing in our duty if we had fudged the difficult and complex judgments about military 342 needs in order to rush to procurement of hardware at any cost. This would have been fair neither to the services nor to the taxpayer.
The Committee has also raised the question of service responsibilities for helicopters and has said that it believes there is a strong case for giving the Army, as user of support helicopters, full responsibility for them. I think that the Committee has raised an interesting question.— [Interruption.] The House may wish to know what it is.
Most NATO nations assign responsibility for operating all battlefield helicopters to their army, but Canada and Norway do so to their air force. We have a split system, with the Army operating smaller and lighter helicopters and the RAF the bigger and heavier ones. It would be wrong to underestimate the upheaval that would be caused by going down the road the Committee has suggested. Major changes would be necessary in the training, manning and support organisations and in the plans of the two services concerned, and it remains to be seen whether the demands of the modern and more mobile battlefield require a fundamental change in existing arrangements.
Moreover, while it would be wrong to become complacent, I should point out that the Falklands campaign demonstrated the ability of all three services to work effectively in integrated operations. Under the revised organisation of the Ministry of Defence, established by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), all operational requirements are considered centrally, which has removed the risk of capabilities which cross service boundaries not being given their rightful priority.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Does the Secretary of State understand that one of the issues in this debate is the integrity of the Prime Minister? Does he intend to deal with HC 519, because, apart from the defence issue, the lying, cheating and dishonesty which undoubtedly go on are most important?
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Gentleman should mind his language. He might also care to consult an ear, nose and throat specialist, because I have already said that I intend to cover both reports. I hope he will accept that that is the right way to deal with this.
Before embarking on any change in ownership of helicopters, I would need to be fully satisfied that any benefits would justify the considerable upheaval and could not be secured by simpler means; for example, by some change in command and control arrangements. Nevertheless, the Government are considering the matter and we will bear the Committee's views very much in mind. Naturally, much of the Committee's third report deals with current helicopter projects and future helicopter requirments, but the Committee also addressed the defence industrial base and Westland's place in it.
The Ministry of Defence is the largest single customer of British industry. Defence procurement accounts for about half the output of the aerospace industry. In this and other sectors the Ministry sustains through the work of the research and development establishments and extra-mural R and D contracts much of the industry's R and D base. In terms of employees, Westland is a relatively small company compared with the giants of the defence industry such as GEC and BAe, but it is the only domestic source of helicopters, and as a result it is one of the relatively few companies to which the Ministry of Defence pays more 343 than £100 million per annum. Indeed, MOD payments currently run at between £150 million and £200 million per annum. Thus, there always has been, and continues to be, a close relationship between the MOD and Westland.
Westland is more than a helicopter company. Upwards of 40 per cent. of its turnover arises from the aerospace and technologies divisions, which are successful and competitive. The smaller of the two, the aerospace division, is now the largest employer in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, and its aerostructures and hovercraft business is expanding. The technologies division is rather larger and comparable in turnover to each of the two helicopter divisions. It is very successful in areas such as environmental control and life support systems, filtration and heat transfer. It is a significant sub-contractor to the Tornado programme, providing valves, tanks, undercarriage components and many other items. It is also very successful in the civil and export field and is a supplier to airbus and the U.S. B1 bombers and F18 fighters. The technologies division represents the ideal defence supplier. It is successful, innovative and profitable, but not wholly dependent on the MOD for orders, having achieved wide civil and foreign military sales.
These two divisions and the helicopter customer support division help to make Westland what it is now, a sound company, and I know that the management believes that it is better placed than it has been for some time. It is, of course, the helicopter division at Yeovil for which it is better known. This division has been successful in supplying the MOD for many years with most of its helicopter requirements and in supporting the MOD helicopter fleet. The core of Westland's future helicopter business rests on the Anglo-Italian EH101 helicopter, which will he widely deployed in the Royal Navy in the 1990s.
As I have said, Westland is also involved in preliminary work on the four-nation light attack helicopter for the late 1990s based upon the development of the Italian A129 helicopter. I am glad to say that Westland's collaboration with its European partners has not been affected by the involvement with Sikorsky and Fiat. In addition, the company is taking part in some major technological developments. Here it has a world lead, as was shown by its recent success in recovering from the Soviet Union the world helicopter speed record and breaking the 200 knot barrier. It has also sold in the civil market and has had export successes.
We wish Westland well in its closer association with Sikorsky and Fiat and hope that it achieves early export orders for its full product range of Sea King, Lynx, Black Hawk and EH101 helicopters. The Government will, of course, give the company every assistance for its exports, just as we give every assistance to other aerospace manufacturers.
The Committee drew attention to the national security issues that can arise as a result of foreign investment in United Kingdom defence suppliers. This is not a new issue. We welcome foreign investment in Britain's industries—whether they be defence or civil suppliers—and this has been the case for many years. Where national interests are at stake and there is the possibility of controlling interests arising, powers are available under existing legislation. Of more immediate concern is the protection of classified information and technology. I can assure the House that there are well established procedures and practices to protect such information and technology in our defence 344 industries, just as there are in defence establishments. I cannot, of course, go into detail, but we take many factors into account. In the case of Westland, as we would with any other firm where there has been a significant change in foreign involvement, the protection of classified matters has been positively confirmed.
The Committee rightly drew attention to the defence industrial base and Westland's position in it. The Government's position was well expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 15 January, when she said that the Government's concern was to see a financial reconstruction of Westland as soon as possible which maintained a British helicopter, design, development and manufacturing capability, supported United Kingdom participation in collaboration with NATO allies and safeguarded the interests of the company, its employees and shareholders.
We are pleased that a financial reconstruction came about which has put the company on a sounder financial footing and that a British helicopter capability has been maintained which can support the MOD fleet, meet current orders for Lynx and Sea King helicopters and participate in the collaborative projects that I have mentioned.
The Government and Westland have a long and successful history of working together. I know and accept that Westland needs a clearer indication of the Government's intentions against which the company can plan its future and, as I have said, decisions on the future support helicopter needs of the services will be taken in the new year. The third report from the Select Committee on Defence has proved valuable in taking forward our views on these and other matters, and we are grateful to the Committee for the work that it has done.
I now turn to the Committee's fourth report on the Government's decision making and to that part of the Government's reply which dealt with this report.
The fourth report gives the House a complex and detailed narrative of events, not only on the days and weeks immediately preceding and succeeding the disclosure of the Solicitor-General's letter on 6 January, but indeed for some months before that. The Committee's examination of these events is entirely in accordance with the Government's acknowledgement of the competence of departmental Select Committees to consider the issues raised by subjects such as Westland.
I have no doubt that hon. Members will have their own points to make on particular aspects of this report. On the bulk of it, I refer the House to paragraph 28 of the Government's reply to the fourth report. It says:Full accounts of the matters with which the Fourth Report is concerned have already been given by Ministers in statements in Parliament, speeches in debates and Answers to Parliamentary Questions, and by the Head of the Home Civil Service in his evidence to the Committee.The report also deals with a number of general issues arising out of the relationship between the Executive and Select Committees.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Gentleman knows that that is clearly spelt out and the Committee made its opinion on it quite clear. It is up to us today to comment on the unanimous conclusion of the Select Committee.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in winding up this debate, is far better placed than I am to 345 deal with the general questions arising out of the relationship between the Executive and Select Committees. I propose to leave all that aspect to him.
There is, however, one issue of constitutional practice on which I should like to end. This is the principle of collective ministerial responsibility. The so-called Westland affair powerfully reinforces the wisdom of successive Administrations in generally abiding by the rule of collective responsibility. That message, underlined by the unhappiness of two ministerial resignations, will long be remembered when so much else in our current political controversy has faded.
As for the future, I am glad that Westland is now on a sounder financial footing. The Government fully recognise that Westland provides a capability which remains important to the Ministry of Defence and that we have a substantial part to play in the company's future. I hope that when we have completed the firm assessment of our requirements which I have mentioned we can together plan constructively for the way forward into the 1990s.
It is, as I have said, far from the case that Westland's links with partners in Europe have suffered as a result of its involvement with Sikorsky and Fiat: on the contrary, its links with firms on both sides of the Atlantic are in excellent shape. The work of the Select Committee on both these matters should be warmly commended by the House.
§ 5.1 pm
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
The Secretary of State has dealt fully with the question of helicopters and their role in the armed forces. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not follow him in the detailed arguments which he put forward.
As the Secretary of State said, we are debating the response of the Government to the third and fourth reports of the inquiries by the Select Committee on Defence, both into the Westland company and into the Government's decision-making process as it related to that company. The third report is about the future of the helicopter industry, the role of helicopters in the armed forces, and the future of our defence industrial base. The fourth report is about the battle for Westland, which commenced with Sikorsky's attempt to acquire a minority interest, and ended with the leaking by the Government of the legal opinion of Her Majesty's Solicitor-General. As the House well knows, it was a battle which led to the resignation of two Cabinet Ministers, which called into question the Prime Minister's integrity, and as the Government's response to the fourth report shows, a battle which could have far-reaching consequences for Select Committees, not only those set up by the Government in 1979 but also long-established Select Committees such as the Public Accounts Committee.
The responsibility for the damage that was done and for the drama lies with the Government and especially with the Prime Minister. The right hon. Lady cannot blame anyone else, not the Labour party, the trade unions, the Russians or even the BBC. In this case the enemy really was the enemy within. The root cause of both the industrial and constitutional problems which arose over Westland lay in the fact that the Government, and especially the Prime Minister, have constantly placed ideological belief ahead of state or national interest. The delicate balance between ideology and national interest, 346 which all other Governments since the war have sought to maintain, has been undermined by the Government. That has had a damaging effect both on industrial policy and on the conventions of the constitution.
In the Westland affair the Government—in reality, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—failed, and indeed refused, to recognise that our defence interests and, perhaps to a greater extent our defence industrial base cannot be safeguarded and secured by the laws of the market place and cannot be determined by the interests of shareholders.
The Department of Trade and Industry failed to understand that in the production of more and more sophisticated military equipment, the choice for Britain, whether we like it or not, will often be to join in collaborative projects with western Europe, to produce under licence, or to buy off the shelf from the Americans. Because of the size and power of the American armaments industry, the American alternative would lead ultimately to the destruction of our industrial base and our manufacturing skills.
As the Select Committee points out, 72 per cent. of all the military helicopters in use in the countries of the West have been manufactured in the United States. Without collaborative ventures within western Europe, and without a measure of state protection, the whole of western Europe's helicopter industry could be wiped out in a very short time.
The Government's simplistic and short-term view was put clearly by the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) in his evidence to the Select Committee. In paragraph 167 of the third report, the right hon. and learned Gentleman defined the defence interest as being tosecure helicopters of the right kind at a reasonable price from a reliable source".For "helicopters" one could substitute fighter aircraft, frigates or tanks, all of which could probably be bought from the United States or manufactured under licence. The price might well be lower to the Ministry of Defence, but the cost would be higher—for the social security budget, for the balance of payments and for our depreciating and declining manufacturing industry. If those words were strictly and literally applied, there would have been no Tornado project, with a consequent massive loss of jobs and technology, and there would be no British participation in the European fighter aircraft, with similar consequences for British industry.
Despite all the traumas and convulsions relating to Westland over the past year, and despite the Government's belief in shareholder power, as the Secretary of State conceded, the underlying problems of the Westland helicopter business and of the future of 8,000 jobs are no nearer a solution. There is little prospect of orders for the new EH 101 helicopter until perhaps the end of the decade, leaving Westland desperately short of orders in the meantime. The defence budget has no money to buy helicopters; the Government, and especially the Army, still have not decided what role they see for battlefield and support helicopters. Those problems cannot be solved by shareholders; they are matters for the Government.
Let me deal now with the fourth report of the Select Committee and the Government's response to it, and in particular the leaking of the Solicitor-General's legal opinion and the subsequent inquiry by the head of the Civil Service into that leaking.
347 It may be said that ultimately, eventually, the constitutional proprieties were discharged. However, a Minister resigned on account of his own misdeeds and those of his civil servants. Apparently, that was sufficient to lay the ghost of Sir Thomas Dugdale. The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks took all the blame and resigned. No one else did — not the Prime Minister, nor the civil servants at the Department of Trade and Industry, nor those at No. 10, all of whom had been, I believe, part of a conspiracy to subvert some of the conventions of the constitution.
Lest future historians are tempted to write up the resignation of the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks as an example of high principle and devotion to the constitution, I must say that it did not seem like that at the time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had finally admitted that he had authorised the leaking of a confidential document which was covered by the Official Secrets Act and was the legal opinion of the Solicitor-General. Yet we certainly did not get the impression that the Prime Minister was very angry about that reprehensible and unconstitutional act.
I do not recollect that the Prime Minister summoned the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the Cabinet room and read out to him chunks of the collected works of Walter Bagehot on the constitution. I doubt very much whether the right hon. Lady keeps a copy of the collected works of Mr. Bagehot. Indeed, far from showing anger at the unconstitutional action of her Secretary of State, the right hon. Lady did her utmost to dissuade him from resigning and hoped that he would soon return to high office.
The Prime Minister could not admit that the Secretary of State had done wrong because if he had done wrong she had also done wrong because she was his partner—his senior partner, indeed — in that wrongdoing. She had used the Secretary of State just as she used the Solicitor-General, just as she duped the Attorney-General and just as she used the Civil Service—and all, it seems, because the right hon. Lady had a temper tantrum owing to the activities of the then Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine).
Statements, questions and speeches in the House with regard to the letter that was leaked have tended to concentrate on the events of Monday 6 January. I notice that the Secretary of State, in the few minutes that he spent on the fourth report and the Government's reply to it, also concentrated on that day. That was the day when civil servants at the Department of Trade and Industry and Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell at number 10 went through the mechanics of leaking the Solicitor-General's letter, but that was the execution of the plot. The plot had been hatched before then, and it was the Prime Minister herself, I am sorry to say, who put the ingredients together for that plot.
The plot started, as is clear from the Select Committee report, on the morning of Saturday 4 January. The Prime Minister, no doubt in high dudgeon at the conduct of the Secretary of State for Defence, told the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to get in touch with the Solicitor-General about possible inaccuracies in a letter written by the Secretary of State for Defence to the merchant bank which was advising the European consortium. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, being a loyal member of the Cabinet, did as he was told and telephoned the Solicitor-General on that very Saturday morning.
348 The devotion to duty of Ministers and civil servants on that weekend was impressive. Everyone was on parade, it seems — the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and his officials, the Prime Minister and her officials, the Solicitor-General and his officials and, of course, during those days the Secretary of State for Defence was never far from a telephone.
After the call from the Department of Trade arid Industry, the Solicitor-General started to heaver away and by 7 pm on Saturday evening he had produced what is described as a provisional oral opinion. The speed with which that provisional opinion came out was impressive. It certainly gives the lie to all those scurrilous people who accuse lawyers of being slow. But then, the orders had come from on high.
I am bound to say that it is surprising that the only evidence which the Solicitor-General took before coming to his opinion was, so far as I could see from reading the reports, from one of the prosecutors—the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The accused, the Secretary of State for Defence, was not asked to give evidence. He was just told about it on the telephone a few hours later. Late on that Saturday evening, he was told that he had provisionally been found guilty.
The Secretary of State for Defence did not seem very bothered. He replied saying that he had evidence in the Ministry of Defence to clear his name. But the Solicitor-General never called for it although there was plenty of time. The whole of Whitehall were at their desks and the whole of Sunday lay ahead. But no doubt the Solicitor-General had his reasons.
By about 7 o'clock on that Saturday evening, No. 10 had been told, so we understand, that a provisional opinion had found the Secretary of State for Defence guilty. When that was communicated back to the ranch excitement started to mount. It was still Saturday evening, but once the Prime Minister was informed of the provisional guilt of the Secretary of State, her immediate reaction—I quote from her speech to the House on 27 January—was:The matter clearly could not be left there. I therefore, through my office, asked him"—the Solicitor-General—to consider writing to the Defence Secretary to draw that opinion to his attention." — [Official Report, 27 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 652.]In other words, "Tell Mayhew to put it in writing." That, of course, is what the Solicitor-General did.
Things now were moving along nicely. Her Majesty's Solicitor-General had pronounced the Secretary of State for Defence guilty and there was a 99 per cent. certainty that a copy of that opinion in the form of a letter would be in No. 10 some time during the morning of Monday 6 January. All that was left to be done was to ensure that the letter got into the public domain—a curious phrase —and then it would be, "Gotcha, Heseltine." What happened next? The Prime Minister was desperate to get the letter into the public domain. She admitted that in her statement on 23 January when she said:it was urgent that it should become public knowledge before 4 pm that afternoon".That was the Monday when the Westland board was to meet. Later in her statement on 23 January, in answer to her hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), the Prime Minister said: 349It was to get that accurate information to the public domain that I gave my consent." — [Official Report, 23 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 450–55.]So the Prime Minister was keen that weekend to get the letter into the public domain.
Are we now asked to believe that, after the Prime Minister asked the Solicitor-General on Saturday evening to write a letter, nothing then happened—that the Prime Minister suddenly collapsed in a heap muttering faintly to herself the words, "public domain"? Are we asked to believe that nothing else was said or done until —surprise, surprise—some time on the Monday morning an ancient retainer from the Solicitor-General's office turns up on the steps of No. 10 with a piece of paper with a pretty pink tape around it, the Solicitor-General's opinion?
Then, suddenly, apparently with magical and telepathic powers, the civil servants of No. 10 and the civil servants at the Department of Trade and Industry got together and leaked the Solicitor-General's letter. The Prime Minister willed the ends; the means, of course, could be left to her civil servants. It was impossible for the means to be other than unconstitutional. I do not understand how the Solicitor-General's legal opinion could, by constitutional means, have been put into the public domain. The conventions are clear and I should be astonished if the Prime Minister, with her legal experience and her experience of Parliament, and the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks with his experience of the law and of Parliament, did not know very well the conventions regarding the legal opinions of Law Officers.
A Law Officer's opinion cannot be made public without his or her consent. No consent was sought. In any case, consent can be given only in what are termed exceptional circumstances. Those were not the sort of exceptional circumstances when a Law Officer's legal opinion should be made public. Even if the circumstances were exceptional and consent had been given, the publication of the Law Officer's opinion must be to Parliament, certainly not to the parliamentary Press Association. By willing the ends, the Prime Minister and her Secretary of State for Trade and Industry willed the unconstitutional means.
After that, events moved very fast. Mr. Bernard Ingham told Miss Colette Bowe to lock up her scruples and call for Mr. Christopher Moncreiff, that well-respected purveyor of news to the public domain. Of course, he did his job and the Prime Minister got the headlines she wanted. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry resigned, but the Prime Minister is still toughing it out. If the Prime Minister's civil servants were not acting on her orders, they should be punished. If they were, the Prime Minister should be punished. If the Secretary of State did wrong, as he did, the Prime Minister also did wrong and her punishment should have been no different from his.
The Law Officers were naturally furious at the way in which they had been used and the Attorney-General forced an inquiry, which was conducted by Sir Robert Armstrong. It was clear from the report of the Select Committee on Defence that the head of the Civil Service was only going through the motions. He knew what had happened, as did the Prime Minister. He certainly knew enough not to ask the two principal Ministers, the Prime 350 Minister and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, to give evidence. That would have been more than his job was worth. He knew enough not to make any inquiries in any of the other Departments involved, because the letter was copied to the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Sir Robert Armstrong knew enough not even to ask any questions in those Departments. Immediately, he drew up his own list of suspects, and they were the five civil servants at the Department of Trade and Industry and No. 10.
In doing that, the head of the Civil Service showed extraordinary detective skills—skills which would have ensured that he received the highest medal of the Sherlock Holmes Society. Of course, the head of the Civil Service knew very well, as did the Prime Minister and everyone else, that the inquiry was a charade and a farce.
What happened next was predictable. The unfortunate Colette Bowe pleaded the defence of superior orders and was granted immunity from prosecution. The other officials faced no disciplinary action whatsoever and their careers are prospering. It is impossible not to make the contrast with the case of poor Sarah Tisdall, who spent six months in Holloway—but she was only a junior clerk.
The Prime Minister no doubt thinks that she has got away with it, but she has not. The jury is still out. When it returns on election night, and when all the other offences have been taken into account, the Opposition have no doubt what the verdict will be on the Prime Minister and her Government.
§ Sir Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)
According to the clock on the wall, the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) has spoken for 23 minutes on a matter of some interest to the House, but despite the fact that he is still the Opposition spokesman on defence he spent only six of those minutes talking about the defence implications of Westland plc. I understand the reason for that. No doubt if the right hon. Gentleman had talked for longer than six minutes about helicopters, he would have had to start on the uphill task of explaining the Labour party's defence policy. It is no wonder that he shied away from that. The right hon. Gentleman took his lead from television, radio and most of the papers, where there has been barely any mention of the defence implications of Westland plc, but much discussion of the fourth report of the Select Committee on Defence. That was done no doubt because it was considered to be more sensational and stood a better chance of improving ratings. The right hon. Gentleman was of the same opinion.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was good enough to say that the third report of the Select Committee on Defence was valuable and interesting. I am glad that he devoted much of his speech to it. For those of us who care about and are interested in Britain's future safety and the future of British undertakings, technology and skill, that is the most important report.
The House will remember that the Select Committee started its inquiry into the defence implications of the future of Westland plc before Christmas last year. The company's future, and whether it had a future at all, had for many weeks been very much in the balance. Its outlook at that time was, to say the least, obscure. The then Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), was not the 351 sponsoring Minister, but he was Westland's main customer and he would have been the Minister most affected if the company crashed.
On 18 December 1985, my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley was asked to give evidence to the Select Committee on Defence about what was going on in the company and about its future. All his evidence and all the subsequent evidence given to the Committee was published and is before the House. There are more than 420 pages of it. I shall not go through it, but I shall make one comment on it. My right hon. Friend's main anxiety, which emerged from his evidence to the Select Committee on Defence and in his subsequent actions, was that the financial link-up between Westland plc and United Technologies Corporation and Fiat, which was supported by the directors and which was about to be put to the shareholders and was finally approved by them, would jeopardise relations between Westland plc and other European helicopter manufacturing companies and would damage the prospects of collaboration on joint projects.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley said to us, in terms, that he believed that the EH101 project could continue, but that the NH90 and light attack helicopter projects would not. Only a year has passed since he said that, but events so far have shown that he was wrong. The Government's policy that the Westland shareholders should decide their future was followed. They decided to link their company with United Technologies Corporation and Fiat, and all three collaborative projects with other European helicopter manufacturers are going ahead unhindered. From a defence point of view, that is excellent news.
Furthermore, the company's affairs seem to be in much better shape than they were a year ago. Westland has a restored capital base, and no net borrowing. It has strong international partners, with one of whom it has been working closely for more than 40 years. Over the first half of this year, Westland's profit performance has been markedly better than for the corresponding period last year, and in all, it continues to employ well over 10,000 people. It must be noted that that turnaround has been achieved without a penny of taxpayers' money. That must be a cause of satisfaction to hon. Members on both sides of the House. Of course there are problems ahead, just as there are for any business. Some, if not all of them, arise because the Ministry of Defence is by far the largest customer of Westland and the company's life or death virtually depends on what it does or does not do.
That leads me straight on to the first point about our third report. It was well known for some years that Westland was in trouble. Some of its difficulties had nothing to do with the Government, such as the company's decision to try to expand into a rapidly contracting civil market. But the Government's action—or, to be more accurate, inaction — in one area did nothing to ease the company's problems. I refer to the Government's inability to make up their mind about what they needed by way of a light support helicopter as a successor to the Puma and the Wessex, which is now 30 years old. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State devoted part of his speech to the famous, or infamous, air staff target 404, which was endorsed, as he said, in 1978.
A broad based feasibility study was undertaken. The possibility of European collaboration was considered. Two further studies were commissioned and completed, yet in December 1985 my right hon. Friend the Member 352 for Henley told us in evidence that he lacked "clear military advice" about what was wanted. Of course, by that time air staff target 404 had been withdrawn. That length of delay — eight years now — by Westland's principal customer can only have added to Westland's difficulties. I think that the House will therefore understand why, in paragraph 67 of the third report, the Committee said:These matters must be resolved quickly.In paragraph 68 of our report, we noted the evidence given to us by the then Minister of State for Defence Procurement, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), that he hoped that Ministers would be able to take a firm view of their requirements for support helicopters by the end of this year. I hope so too. Eight years should surely be long enough to reach some conclusion.
Paragraph 8 of the Government's response says that the Government accept that a decision must be reached quickly but it does not specifically repeat the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames, which I just quoted. It is clear that, if there is much more delay, there is a real risk that in two or three years' time this country's only helicopter-manufacturing company will once again be in severe difficulties. We shall be faced with these problems all over again.
It is only fair that I should give the Government notice that the Defence Committee will return to this matter when, at the latest, we examine the statement on the Defence Estimates next year.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, as he has drawn attention to the need for an early decision. Does he not also feel somewhat depressed, if not dissatisfied, because the Secretary of State clearly implied that that decision would not he made in the autumn, as the Select Committee recommended, and would be left until, I think he said, some time early next year?
§ Sir Humphrey Atkins
It is our business to keep up the pressure on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and, as I have just implied, I propose to do so.
My other point about the third report involves the ownership and control of defence contractors. We examined in some detail two important questions. One of them involved the restrictions which prevent control of a company passing outside the United Kingdom. Indeed, the House will no doubt remember that the Libyan Government were involved in the UTC-Fiat proposal. The other question involved the anonymity of a purchaser of shares.
The Government's response, in paragraphs 22 to 24, deals with one of those questions, but not with the other. We are told that the powers available to the Government under the Fair Trading Act 1973, the Industry Act 1975 and the Companies Act 1975 are sufficient to prevent a foreign buyer from acquiring not just control but even material influence over a defence contractor. That is all well and good, but it does not deal with the question of anonymous or mystery shareholders.
The House will remember that on 12 February 1986, at the emergency general meeting of the shareholders of Westland at which the company's future was decided, there were six such shareholders, who between them owned one fifth of the shares. That is what led our Committee to say, in paragraph 143 of our third report: 353The Government cannot know that there is a need to exercise that power without knowing when the effective control of a company is a matter of concern.In this context, of course, we mean national concern. In paragraph 144, we went on to say:It is, therefore, the responsibility of Government to satisfy itself that the ownership of shares in defence contractors of national importance has no implications for national security.In other words, the Government should not wait to be told that something undesirable may be going on, but should monitor the situation so that they know at once and can, if it seems necessary, use their powers to prevent it. That point is not addressed in the Government's response. I hope that that does not mean that it will not be, because, although I recognise that the subject may fall more within the ambit of the Trade and Industry Committee, where defence contractors are concerned, it is clearly of great importance to our Committee and, as we have said in the report, we plan to return to it.
I turn to our fourth report. An enormous amount has been said and written about the matters contained in the report, and no doubt a lot more will be said by some hon. Members tonight. I do not regard it as my business to elaborate on that report in what I have to say to the House. I shall give the reason. Our Committee examined the matters covered in the report in great detail over many weeks. We took a large amount of evidence, which has been published and which anyone may read. We considered that evidence and have said what we make of it in our report, which contains 240 paragraphs.
None of us — I know that I can speak for all my colleagues on the Committee— wishes to add anything to what we have written or to subtract anything. To the best of our ability we have sought to fulfil the task laid upon us by the Standing Orders of the House, which in this case were reinforced by a resolution of the House on 15 January 1986. How well we have done our job is for the House, and not for us, to judge. Hon. Members will no doubt say exactly what is in their minds, and that is as it should be, because that is what we are all here to do. But I remind the House that every word in both of the reports was agreed by everyone on the Committee.
There are 10 of us on the Committee. We are a diverse lot and we do not all sit on the same side of the House. Nevertheless, the evidence was given to us all and we all spent many hours deciding what to make of it. The outcome was this unanimous report. Furthermore, as can be seen from its text, our report was based solely on the evidence before us. The conclusions that we drew, and the reasons for them, are set down in black and white for all to see.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I wrote to the Clerk of the Committee on 6 March 1986, drawing his attention to the fact—appendix 12(xii) on page 352—that it is hard to understand why the Prime Minister does not feel that there was any breach of the disciplinary code by her civil servants if they had not consulted her in any way. I said that I hoped that members of the Select Committee on Defence would consider examining the Prime Minister in detail on that important point, particularly as, in a letter to me dated 17 February, the Prime Minister had replied as head of the Civil Service addressing a disciplinary issue, 354 saying that the discharge of their duties in that as in other respects was within the general responsibility of Ministers to Parliament for the policies and management of their Departments. In the light of that, will the right hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of that Committee, explain why the Select Committee did not question the Prime Minister in the interest of pursuing the truth?
§ Sir Humphrey Atkins
The right hon. Gentleman is asking me to do exactly what I have said that I will not do. We have produced our report and all the evidence, including the extracts to which he referred, and we are content to be judged by the House as to whether or not we have done a good job. I also said that anyone can say what he likes. That is so, and the right hon. Gentleman no doubt will. We sought to do the job with which we were charged, and the result is there for everyone to see.
The Committee was unanimous. Therefore, anyone who disagrees with what we have written—and anyone is entitled to do that—is disagreeing not just with one or two people or even with people who take a different view about the merits of the present Government but with all 10 of his fellow Members. Of course we may be wrong. None of us claims any infallibility. But I for one will need a certain amount of convincing that we are wrong.
The last six paragraphs of the Government's response deal with what we said towards the end of the fourth report about accountability and the position of civil servants. I say at once that I have no quarrel whatever with the Government about what they have said about the basic principles. A civil servant is the servant of, and responsible to, the Government — to the Minister who is his superior. Each Minister is responsible to Parliament for what he does and for what civil servants do in his name. He is also accountable to Parliament for these matters and has a duty to explain to Parliament what is done by him or his civil servants. Furthermore, I agree that if a civil servant has done wrong it is normally his superiors in the service—and if necessary his Minister—who have the responsibility to take action, including disciplinary action if that is appropriate.
All this seems perfectly clear and, I imagine, is accepted by everyone. But the final sentence of the Government's response says that they propose to give a general instruction to civil servants not to answer questions put by a Select Committee that are concerned with their conduct, and in that regard I am less happy. I want to make two or three observations about it.
Let me make it clear that I am speaking only as Chairman of the Defence Committee and in no way on behalf of any other Committee whose Chairman and members will no doubt have views of their own. The Defence Committee considered this proposition briefly at its meeting last week, and a number of points arose which it is only right that I should communicate to the Government at this, the first opportunity.
First, unlike some commentators, I do not regard the Government's proposal as a constitutional innovation. We are perfectly accustomed to a civil servant, giving evidence to us, being asked, "Why did you do this?" or, "Why did you write that letter in those terms?" and replying, "Because my Minister told me to," or, "Because I was carrying out the policy of the Government as enunciated to me by my Minister." Naturally, we accept that, and do not ask any further questions on it, although of course we may well pursue it with the Minister.
355 We are also accustomed, although it happens less often, to receiving the reply, "My Minister has told me that he would prefer to answer questions about this himself"—in other words, "I have been told not to answer this." Therefore, there is nothing constitutionally new in the Government's proposal. What is new is that the proposal as worded is for a blanket instruction covering all civil servants at all times. This, even in our first consideration of the proposal, has posed to us a number of questions about how we could work in the future. I shall tell the Government of three.
First, this proposal as worded specifically applies to civil servants. In the course of our work we frequently take evidence from military personnel. Is it intended that we should be debarred from asking Navy, Army and Air Force officers or other ranks what they do, how they do it and what they did in a particular case? This may seem to be a minor point, but it is important to us and, I think, to the House because quite a proportion of what we report to the House is the result of evidence given to us by the military.
Secondly, as the House knows, the Government intend to privatise the operations of the royal dockyards, and consortia are being put together to submit tenders for the management contracts. More than one of these consortia include civil servants and naval officers. What they do as members of a consortium is not, of course, the responsibility of Ministers. However, one can easily see the possibility of a conflict of interest that would relate directly to their conduct as officials and serving officers. Is it intended that this area should be barred to the Committee?
Thirdly, there is the matter of executive responsibility budgets. These were introduced into the Ministry of Defence last year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and provided that senior civil servants should have the responsibility for managing the employment of sums of public money allocated to them. Paragraph 506 of the Statement on Defence Estimates 1985 described them asenhancing the accountability of individual managers.We are told that executive responsibility budgets cover £3 billion of annual public expenditure and, as the White Paper says, are to be a matter not for the Minister but for the individual civil servant. I really cannot believe that the Government intend to prevent a Select Committee from inquiring into how its servants discharge their duty in relation to these enormous sums of money.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
It is even more difficult than that, because the accounting officer, who is a civil servant, has statutory responsibility to Parliament and through Parliament, to the Public Accounts Committee. It is not the Minister who has those statutory responsibilities, it is the accounting officer, and our work, which has lasted for more than 100 years, would be wound up if this were carried out.
§ Sir Humphrey Atkins
The right hon. Gentleman is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committe, as I well know. I said that I was speaking only on behalf of the Defence Committee. I thought that, had the right hon. Gentleman wanted to make that point he would have done so in a speech. But he has made it in an intervention which no doubt has been just as well noted.
356 I have given three examples that occurred immediately to the Defence Committee. There is, however, a more important general question. The Standing Orders of the House establish all the Committees to examinethe expenditure, administration and policyof the relevant Ministry. I know that the Government would not wish to prevent us from carrying out one third of the task that the House has given us—administration — but on a wide interpretation the Government's proposal in paragraph 44 would do just that. I suspect that much hangs on the precise definition of the word "conduct", and it is my belief that this requires much further consideration.
I should therefore like to make a suggestion to the Government that I hope my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to accept. It is, "Stay your hand. Do not issue this instruction immediately. First consult the House and its Committees before deciding whether to go ahead and, if so, in what precise form." A direct clash does neither the Government nor the House any good. This way, I believe, it can be avoided.
§ Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
It is a real pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) as Chairman of the Defence Committee. I begin by congratulating him and his Committee on the report that they have produced. Even though he did not say why they had not questioned the Prime Minister, I place it on record that the report so far as it goes is a masterly document. We are all grateful to our colleagues who spend so much of their time on the often unrewarding task of serving on these Select Committees in general, and on this one in particular.
I note the way in which this report is eminently readable. This would be welcome in all official publications. For example, in referring to the apparent straying from the conventions on collective responsibility of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), paragraph 4 states:the steps that were taken within. Government to counter and even to discredit his view could only with great restraint be described as merely unorthodox.That is a masterly piece of draftsmanship and understatement.
Again, in referring to the disclosure of the Solicitor-General's letter, paragraph 151 states:Sir Robert Armstrong told us, a trifle euphemistically, that Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell 'accepted' that the DTI should make the disclosure.In addition, in referring to the reasons why the disclosure remained unattributable, paragraph 168 states:Sir Robert Armstrong told us that the extracts were released unattributably because the Department of Trade and Industry did not want to disclose at that stage that there was disagreement between one Government Department and another.The Committee then tells us:We do not doubt that Sir Robert accurately reported what he was told in his inquiry, but we do hope that his credulity was as sorely taxed as ours.Any report written in that vein is truly to be welcomed by the House.
I deeply regret that we are mixing in this one unsatisfactory debate both the serious issue of the future of helicopter production and the constitutional issues which the right hon. Member for Spelthorne mentioned at the end of his speech. That is thoroughly unsatisfactory. 357 My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), in whose constituency the bulk of the Westland operation lies, hopes to speak about the third report from the Defence Committee. I shall therefore say only a brief word on that. I believe strongly—the Select Committee report bears this out — that the basic trouble into which Westland landed itself stemmed in 1984–85 from the Government's hands-off approach to manufacturing industry in general.
The report says that as late as 8 August the now chairman of the Conservative party, then still the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, was telling the company to find a market solution. A month later he was replaced by the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) who gave what Sir John Cuckney called "the cold shoulder" to the company.
There are two lessons to be learnt, one of which was pointed out in the Select Committee's report. First, the 1978 helicopter agreement between the four European Governments was never pursued with adequate vigour by any of the Governments. The Committee draws that conclusion clearly. It describes the general approach by the right hon. Member for Henley to the subject as being "compelling" but, of course, rather late in the day. The report implies that this lack of concerted effort on helicopter procurement among the European Governments is only too typical of our defence procurement policies generally.
The second lesson relevant to Westland which the report highlights is that none of our competitors, whether in Europe, the United States or anywhere else, adopt such a hands-off approach to their industries, especially when defence is concerned. Certainly the United States Administration, the high apostle of the free market economy, are highly interventionist in relation to the defence industry.
Westland is simply one casualty among many, part of the one fifth of manufacturing capacity which has been lost since this Government came to power through the dedicated application of what the right hon. Member for Spelthorne described in a masterly understatement, as "inaction" by the present Administration.
I shall deal mainly with the fourth report in my brief speech. I blame the Government for the way in which the debate has been handled. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Defence has left the Chamber, because I wanted to tell him that I have long been an admirer of his. I have watched him for many years at the Scottish Office, and no member of the Government is as able as he to indulge in such deadpan, stonewalling and buck-passing with such effect. He did that beautifully this afternoon.
I blame the Leader of the Opposition for allowing a debate such as this to occur. Why is he not leading on the important constitutional and political issues involved? He has allowed the Prime Minister to get off the hook and to remain silent again on the major issues. We should be debating the Government's conduct as well as Westland interests. The Leader of the Opposition should take an interest in the conduct of the Government.
In paragraph 109, the fourth report states:The … assumption that, if Mr. Heseltine's resignation was not to be required, he could be thwarted by any means, cannot be justified.That is a serious unanimous finding by the Committee.
358 As we have already heard, on Saturday 4 January the Prime Minister herself asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to get hold of the Law Officers to check what the Secretary of State for Defence had written. That Saturday evening the Solicitor-General gave his preliminary opinion and received the response from the Prime Minister that, in the words of the Select Committee,the matter could not be left there.It was she who instigated the Solicitor-General's letter to the Secretary of State for Defence.
By Monday afternoon, 6 January, copies of the letter had gone to No. 10 and to the Department of Trade and Industry. It is interesting to note that the Select Committee says that the Prime Minister's excuse for this matter being brought into the public domain was the 4 o'clock deadline of the Westland meeting. The report finds that reason "flimsy." Why is the Prime Minister not here to answer that telling criticism?
Paragraph 144 of the report states that, when the letter arrived at the Department of Trade and Industry, Miss Colette Bowe was among those present. The Committee states:The fact that she was alerted to the receipt of the letter and was present at that stage suggests that before consulting the Secretary of State and before speaking to No. 10 the officials had in mind that some public use of the information contained in the letter was indicated.Who indicated that? The implication is that the indication must have come right at the beginning when the letter was sought from the Solicitor-General. Otherwise, there was no point in asking for the letter. Then the leak to the Press Association was arranged. The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks, in his evidence to the Committee, says throughout that it was all to be subject to the agreement of No. 10.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What was Miss Bowe doing there at all, unless the whole point was to leak the letter? Surely Law Officers' letters in No. 10 Downing street in any Government are handled most gingerly, because of their effect in the courts. The question has never been answered as to what on earth the press officers—either Miss Bowe or Mr. Ingham—were doing with the letters in the first place.
§ Mr. Steel
The Select Committee says that the only reason why she was there was that her presence was to be required. In other words, it was previously arranged that the letter was to be put into the public domain. That was the whole point.
In paragraph 155 the Committee tells the House:As far as the disclosure of the Solicitor-General's letter was concerned, however, Mr. Ingham undoubtedly realised the implication of what was about to take place and wished to distance No. 10 and the Prime Minister from the consequences.That appears in bold type. The Committee continues:The method of disclosure that was adopted, the unattributable communication of tendentious extracts from the letter, was disreputable.The Committee uses the word "disreputable", yet the Prime Minister is not here to answer for "disreputable" conduct or for "flimsy" reasons.
Paragraph 160 of the report states:The officials who reached the judgment on 6 January that giving information to the Press Associat.ca was the only way of making it public at the time made a wrong decision.359 Who is to carry the can for that "wrong decision"? We are told that no civil servants are to be subject to disciplinary procedure for wrong decisions, so the responsibility must be that of Ministers.
I have examined the Select Committee's evidence. The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks refused to answer many questions. As he is no longer a Minister, he is not answerable to the House under the constitution. In a sense, the bird had flown the minute that he resigned. We have not been able to pursue the real questions.
This afternoon the Secretary of State for Defence rested on the conclusion in the Select Committee report that what was done waswithout the Prime Minister's direct authority".Many people have wondered how that could be. How could it be that over that whole weekend and the following week, before setting up the Sir Robert Armstrong inquiry, the Prime Minister never bothered to ask Leon, Robert or Bernard what actually went on? That is straining our credulity, but I believe it. I do not believe that she asked.
The right hon. Lady never asked because she knew that if the ball of wool was unravelled it would come back to her. One does not ask questions if one is determined to remain in studied ignorance of what happened. That is why she never asked. She knew what the answers would be. That is why the bogus inquiry was set up and why, when it was reported to the House, I said that if the Prime Minister was living in the real world outside she would find herself on a charge of wasting the time of the police. That conclusion is reinforced by the descriptions of the Select Committee on Defence.
I now turn to the final points made by the Chairman of the Select Committee, especially with reference to the recent report of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee. I am extremely disturbed, as I am sure he must be, by the proposed debar of Select Committees to question civil servants in future. The Treasury and Civil Service Committee said in paragraph 3.17:If Crichel Down is dead and Ministers are not accountable to Parliament for some actions of their officials, then who is?If not Ministers, it can only be officials. I believe that the Committee is correct, and that is why this issue is of far greater constitutional, parliamentary and political importance then we have allowed it to assume so far.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of Crichel Down. Is it not a fact that the civil servants involved there were very remote in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and that Sir Thomas Dugdale could not have been expected to have much firsthand knowledge? However, Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell were as close to the Prime Minister as Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were to Richard Nixon.
§ Mr. Steel
That is true. Without side-tracking, I think the hon. Gentleman will accept that since the Dugdale case we have all accepted that there is a much greater responsibility on the part of civil servants. That is one of the reasons why parliamentary Committees must be able to cross-examine civil servants. We no longer maintain the fiction that Ministers must be so knowledgeable and know every detail of their Administration. The Civil Service has grown, and the complexity of a Minister's work has grown. Nobody is pleading the Dugdale case as being the standard by which we should operate. That is all the more 360 reason why we must reject the Government's reply to the Select Committee and the paragraphs mentioned by the Chairman.
My criticism of the Government and the way in which this has been handled is that it goes to the heart of the way in which the Prime Minister runs the Government. It is much more like a court than a Cabinet, including the divine right of monarchs to rule. The way in which the Government have been conducted and the Prime Minister's style of government reminded me of Torn Lehrer's lines in the song about the John Birch Society:There's no one left but thee and me and I'm not sure of thee.That is the Prime Minister's attitude to government and, as it turns out, to Select Committees. She is not sure of them any longer, so their powers must be curbed.
The truth is that the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks has been made the fall guy in this affair. Presumably we will not know for some time whether it was done willingly, or whether he was forced. I am concerned about what we used to call liberal democracy. I am concerned that the unwritten rules of our liberal democracy are being strained. That is why I strongly favour a Freedom of Information Act. If the unwritten rules are to be strained in this way, we should have some written rules.
This whole episode has diminished the Prime Minister and the Government. It is in danger of diminishing Parliament if we leave this rather facile Adjournment debate as being our sole response to what I regard as an attack on our Select Committee system. The scar of this shabby episode will remain long after the Prime Minister and the Government have gone. We who are concerned about the reputation of the Parliament should give a clear warning that we will stand together across the Floor of the House against any further erosion of the powers of Parliament to call the Government to account for their deeds, misdeeds and failures.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Richmond, Yorks)
Since I last spoke in the House about these matters, three days after my resignation, much has been written and spoken about the Westland affair and more has been added today. What I want to do today is to draw what seem to me two important conclusions for the future arising from it. But before doing so, I also want to make it clear that I stand by what I said to the House in my speech last January.
In that speech I said that I made it clear to my officials at the Department of Trade and Industry that, subject to the agreement of No. 10, I was giving authority for the disclosure of the Solicitor-General's letter to the then Secretary of State for Defence. In saying that, I was confirming what the Prime Minister herself had said to the House the previous Thursday. Consent to the disclosure was of course given by Mr. Powell and Mr. Ingham and that disclosure duly took place. I told the House that I therefore accepted full responsibility for it.
I also said to the House last January that I accepted that the disclosure should not have taken place in the way that it did, and I profoundly regretted that it had happened. I reiterate today both my acceptance and responsibility and my regret at what occurred.
Since last January the detailed events of those days have been considered by the Select Committee, and it has placed its own glosses upon them, upon which I shall not 361 comment. But if anything of value for the future is to result from those unhappy events, it seems to me that we should be concentrating on the long-term lessons to be derived from it.
The first relates to the doctrine of collective ministerial responsibility — the doctrine that, once a decision is taken within Government, it is the duty of all Ministers, as long as they remain within the Government, to be loyal to that decision, whether they agree with it or not. Until the Westland affair it might have been tempting to regard that doctrine as one only of importance for constitutional purists and not one that really matters in today's world. The Westland affair has illustrated beyond peradventure that the doctrine of collective ministerial responsibility is, and must still be, very much part of our constitution. If it is ignored, the result is likely to be, and was, disaster.
In the Westland affair, in the words of the Select Committee, the Government weretreated to the unusual spectacle of one of its number, supported by the resources of his Department, pursuing a policy which was diametrically opposed to the Government's stated policy.To pursue that policy, relentless media briefing and tendentious disclosures and revelations took place on a daily, if not hourly, basis. That was bound to put the Government as a whole, and in particular the Minister whose departmental responsibility it was to implement the Government's policy, in a position of unparalleled difficulty. It led to things happening which unquestionably should not have happened, and for a while public conflict replaced coherent government.
Why was that allowed to happen? It was understandable that there should be a desire not to force out of the Government someone who had been a great source of strength to it, and a reluctance to silence a voice which, when used in support of Government policy, had been so eloquent and persuasive. But after the Westland affair, I have no doubt that any future Government, whatever their political complexion, will and should insist that the decisions of the Government should have the support of all Members, and should not be undermined from within.
The second conclusion that I draw from the Westland affair relates to helicopter policy. Was the Government's policy towards the alternative offers to rescue Westland the right one?
§ Mr. Brittan
No, I will not.
Has Westland, as a result, been able to continue to play its role as an important helicopter producing company? I have no doubt that events to date have totally vindicated the Government's policy and it is quite clear that Westland has been strengthened, rather than weakened, as a result. That view was fully supported by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins), who is Chairman of the Defence Select Committee.
§ Mr. Brittan
At the time of the controversy it was strongly argued that the Government should use their power to force Westland to accept the offer of the European consortium. The main argument in favour of 362 that policy was that if Westland went ahead with the Sikorsky-Fiat offer, collaborative programmes involving Westland and European helicopter companies would be gravely imperilled.
So central a feature was that in the argument that, when the Prime Minister's letter to the chairman of Westland did not contain all the material relating to that threat that the then Secretary of State for Defence wanted included, the Ministry of Defence solicited a letter from the bankers of the European consortium, requesting further information. The Secretary of State for Defence then sent a reply, including much of the material which had been excluded from the Prime Minister's letter, after the most careful consideration. That reply was not cleared or even discussed with other members of the Government. But, although the argument about co-operation between Westland and other European helicopter companies was regarded as so crucial as to justify that conduct, one thing is now abundantly clear: the threats that were held out — some would say manufactured — that European cooperation would be withdrawn if the Sikorsky-Fiat offer were accepted, have proved wholly unfounded.
Westland was at the time collaborating with Agusta of Italy to produce the EH101 helicopter, about which the Secretary of State has spoken. The Select Committee concluded last July thatthe EH 101 is now the most secure of all the collaborative helicopter projects in Europe … we have received no indication that this development has been or will be put at risk by the association of Westland with UTC.Work was also beginning on the possible development of the A129 helicopter. The Select Committee concluded:The association between UTC and Westland does not appear to have had an adverse effect on this collaboration. Indeed, in evidence to us, Agusta did not seem perturbed about the possibility of the involvement of Westland, through UTC, in the Light Helicopter Experimental (LHX) project, and in fact saw mutual advantages in a closer relationship between the A129 project and the LHX.Indeed, a few weeks after the Select Committee report was published, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has told us, agreement was reached between Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain to begin work on a new anti-tank helicopter. This will involve studying the feasibility of developing the A129 into a helicopter able to carry out missile attacks on enemy tanks.
Reporting the signature of the memorandum setting out the arrangements for this project, the defence correspondent of The Times stated:During the controversy over whether Westland should seek financial help through links with European companies, or through the American company, Sikorsky, supporters of the European solution argued that if Westland made a deal with Sikorsky it might be shut out of European projects.Nevertheless, it is one of the four companies now part of a new company in Italy, Joint European Helicopter.
With regard to the possible development of a joint battlefield helicopter programme, the Select Committee concluded:We do not believe that the association between UTC and Westland has had any effect one way or the other on the possibility of a joint battlefield helicopter programme.It is understandable that Westland's European competitors wanted to stymie the Sikorsky-Fiat approach, and the threat of the collapse of co-operation between Westland and the European companies was an obvious card to play in that game. But the events of the past few months have completely vindicated the Government's decision not to force Westland to pursue a solution to its 363 problems contrary to the wishes of its directors and work force alike. Westland has continued to co-operate, unimpeded, with other European helicopter companies. It will continue to do so and the cause of European cooperation, of which I am as great an enthusiast as any hon. Member, has not been damaged one jot or tittle by Westland's choice of partners.
I make no apology, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for devoting so much of my remarks to helicopter policy. I have not shirked, nor do I shirk, my share of responsibility for what went wrong with the handling of these issues in Government. But I hope I am also entitled to put these matters in their proper context, which shows a Government reaching a considered view on their policy, finding the implementation of that policy thwarted at every turn by one of their own members, but emerging with the essential rationale of that policy amply vindicated by subsequent events.
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) in this debate. He and I exchanged words several times across the Floor in the Defence Select Committee, and I want to take this opportunity, which I have not had before, to say before the House that I admired the right hon. and learned Gentleman's courage. He did not have to come before the Defence Select Committee, and it must have been an ordeal for him. I did not think that his answers did his reputation the credit that they could have done, but it must have taken a great deal of courage and he could have walked out at any time. He appeared of his own free will.
I should like to pay tribute to my Conservative colleagues on that Committee. It could not have been easy for them to agree to our fourth report, which makes the most stinging references to senior members of the Conservative party, but they did agree to it. It is a tribute to the integrity and courage of individual Conservative Back-Bench Members that they were prepared to put their names to such an independent report which would, obviously, be extremely embarrassing to the Government.
I do not intend to trespass on the time of the House today by discussing the Committee's third report. It is far less contentious than the fourth report, and the Government's response was welcome and much better considered than their response to our fourth report.
Our fourth report deals with an extraordinary state of affairs. Not only had two senior Ministers resigned, and we did not know whether either of them would ever resume senior ministerial office, but at least one more nearly resigned. The Government tripped from shambles to shambles during the hearings and the negotiations that went on behind the scenes, many of which have never come into the public domain. The right of the Committee to certain documents was questioned, and I am glad to say that the Committee was resolute, won hands down and was allowed to see every line of every document that it, not the Government, decided was relevant to the inquiry. That victory was won, not only for the Defence Select Committee, but for all Select Committees.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My right hon. Friend talked about Ministers resuming office. If the whole story had been about a Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who for 14 long days deceived senior civil servants, his Cabinet 364 colleagues and his Prime Minister, how could that Prime Minister, in that unique resignation correspondence, express the hope that he would return to high office soon and resume his political career?
§ Dr. Gilbert
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and no doubt he will make his own speech on the subject if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is not a question for me.
Subsequently, this extraordinary new doctrine has appeared. I take issue with the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) on this, because I believe that the Government are trying to erect a new constitutional doctrine in paragraphs 42 to 44 of their response. I shall come to that shortly.
We also had the extraordinary spectacle of the Prime Minister's behaviour. Opposition Members could see that she was grinning from ear to ear immediately after the leak. She was delighted with the consequences, until we got a little further down the road when, suddenly, she rightly became very apprehensive about the security of her position. She then had to endure the humiliation of having a speech that she had prepared for delivery in the House crawled over by several members of the Government to ensure that it was internally consistent and truthful, arid would stand up to the scrutiny of the House.
Before making that speech the Prime Minister had a reputation, whether we liked it or not, of credibility. It was widely thought in the counry that, although one might not like what the Prime Miniter said, one could at least believe it and that she was telling the facts as she saw them. In the middle of the affair, public opinion polls showed that no fewer than 70 per cent. of the British people did not believe the Prime Minister. As the leader of the Liberal party said, that is not good for the Conservative party, not good for the Government and not good for the country.
If newspaper reports are to be believed, it is clear that the Prime Minister still lives in fear of the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity to intervene, if he likes, to tell me that the newspaper reports are inaccurate. I have heard that he had an opportunity to advise on the Government's response to the Select Committee report and was responsible for the deletion of a couple of paragraphs in it. If that report is inaccurate, the right hon. and learned Gentleman can intervene to say so now. He chooses not to do so.
The Prime Minister comes out of the affair cutting a pretty pathetic figure. There are still a great many unanswered questions. There are a great many questions yet to be asked—for the simple reason that the Select Committee did not interview five named officials. It decided not to interview those officials because the Government told it, "You may have these officials before you, but they will be instructed to say nothing at all." If that is not part of the arrogance of power and an abuse of the Executive's power over the House, I do not know what is, but that is what the Select Committee was faced with.
It is inevitable that I should consider the role of certain civil servants in the affair. At one stage in our cross-examination of Sir Robert Armstrong I put it to him that at least five officials—everybody knows who they were —were in it up to their necks. Sir Robert Armstrong replied that that was an utterly unfair remark and that the 365 officials had ministerial authority. The Committee commented on that at paragraph 173 of the fourth report. I shall refresh the House's memory. It reads:The Prime Minister told the House, and the Secretary of the Cabinet told us, that the officials in the DTI were confident that they had the authority of their Secretary of State and 'cover'—whatever that may mean—from No. 10. 'Cover' is used in distinction to 'authority'. The only authority given was that of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. We do not believe that such authority is sufficient, or would be regarded by senior officials in key positions as sufficient, to make public parts of a documentEither they had that authority, or they did not. If they did not, their careers should have suffered. If they did, the person who gave the authority should suffer accordingly.
- —which was classified;
- —which did not originate in the Secretary of State's own department;
- —which contained the advice of a Law Officer;
- —which was to be disclosed without the knowledge or permission of the Law Officer."
We all know that there is only one Minister capable of giving ministerial authority to Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell — the Prime Minister. I have recently written to the Prime Minister asking her whether, in view of the comments that the Government have made in paragraphs 42 and 44 of their response, she would be prepared to give evidence to a Select Committee — I did not say the Defence Select Committee—if it at any time wanted to inquire into the actions of members of her Private Office or the press secretary at 10 Downing street. Something tells me that I shall not get a reply before 10 pm tonight.
The most serious impact of what happened in the Westland affair was its impact on Civil Service morale. It must have gone wide and deep. We had the spectacle of the private secretary—this all comes out in the Select Committee's evidence — to the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry apparently putting to the Secretary of State over the telephone the possibility of the course of conduct which was subsequently followed. We had Miss Bowe, who seems to be the least blameworthy of the officials: apparently telling Mr. Ingham, "I do not want to do it, it is wrong," more than once, but to no great avail because, knowing that it was wrong, she ultimately did it. She was clearly under intense pressure. One of the people applying the pressure was Mr. Mogg, but Mr. Ingham and Mr. Michell were involved too.
I should emphasise that I know none of these officials personally. I am told that Mr. Powell is a much liked and much respected official at the Foreign Office. He must have known that what he was doing was wrong. One does not get into the Prime Minister's private office without being a high flyer. One has to be a civil servant of the highest quality to arrive at such a position. We all know that high-flying civil servants pride themselves on their political antennae. They think of themselves as being more political than politicians. Mr. Powell must have known perfectly well what was going on.
People come to me and say, "Do not be too hard on Mr. Powell, he is a very nice chap." With respect to Mr. Ingham, I have to say that there are no doubt some people who think that he is a very nice chap, but I have yet to meet one. No doubt such people exist outside his family. Mr. Ingham is quoted in Sunday's papers as replying to Miss Bowe's saying, "I do not want to do it, it is wrong", "You will expletive well do as you are expletive well told." I have 366 no idea whether such language is typical of Mr. Ingham. Irrespective of whether he used such language, it produced the desired effect.
There is an interesting interface between Sir Robert Armstrong, Sir Brian Hayes and the Attorney-General. In my view, it is absolutely not to be believed that Sir Brian Hayes did not know, within minutes of returning to his Department, what had happened. I was in government for only about five years, but I got to know quite a few permanent secretaries. I refuse to believe that a permanent secretary was not told by his own officials. He would have had to inquire as soon as he got back to his desk what had happened and about the trouble that was brewing.
I refuse to believe that Sir Brian Hayes did not communicate to Sir Robert Armstrong as quickly as possible the thunderstorm that was brewing for them all. It follows from that — and the Select Committee has virtually said it—that Sir Robert Armstrong must have known that the inquiry was a charade. To be fair to Sir Robert, he did not want to have an inquiry, and he was right not to want to have one, because he knew perfectly well what the inquiry would produce. However, that is why he resisted the Attorney-General's pressure.
The question in my mind, which is one of the more interesting unanswered questions, is whether Sir Robert Armstrong told the Attorney-General the full reason why an inquiry was not necessary. Did he just say, "This poor girl has been put under intense pressure," or did he say that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had been part of the pressure? If he followed the second course and told the Attorney-General that the instructions to Miss Bowe had come from the Minister, her own Secretary of State, the Attorney-General was an accomplice in the charade. That is an interpretation that I am reluctant to accept, because I have a high opinion of the Attorney-General and his reputation. So if one follows the line that Sir Robert did not tell the Attorney-General the full reason why an inquiry was unnecessary, why did he not do so? Surely it can only be because he did not trust even the Attorney-General with the knowledge that either the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry or the Prime Minister had authorised the disclosure. That is one of the most remarkable parts of the commentary on how business was then being conducted in the Government.
Part of the effect on the morale of the Civil Service was the sorry spectacle that the head of the Civil Service presented before our Committee. Let me say straight away that there is no criticsm whatsoever of him in respect of any events until the time that he agreed to the inquiry, but from then on I am afraid that his position is not one that has done his career or reputation any good. He knew the whole story before he started the inquiry. He could not, in answer to a simple question by our Committee, even bring himself to say whether the actions of officials were improper. He never interviewed the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks. He refused to answer questions about named officials. He pleaded his charade of an inquiry in aid against the Committee interviewing the Civil Service witnesses whom we had already said we wanted to interview. He said—not us—that their lives, careers and reputations were in jeopardy and it would be unfair for our Committee to put them through such an ordeal again, when he had put them through such an ordeal, on his own evidence, knowing perfectly well that it was not necessary because, according to him, their actions had been covered by ministerial authority.
367 I am afraid that I do not see that it is possible for the head of the Civil Service's reputation to recover from the mauling that it received as a result of his appearances before our inquiry. Again, that can be to nobody's good. It is not to the good of the Government, and it is certainly not to the good of the Civil Service. It is not to the good of the country.
Finally, we have the extraordinary response from the Government, particularly paragraphs 42 to 44. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, intervened in the speech of the right hon. Member for Spelthorne, who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, to point out that if one takes the words of the response literally, the work of the Public Accounts Committee will become impossible. The Committee could not do the job that is statutorily laid upon it, nor could the Select Committee on Defence.
The right hon. Member for Spelthorne gave a couple of examples. I could give some more. For three years I was responsible for defence procurement. At that time it amounted to about £4,000 million a year. I cannot remember what the exact floor level was; I think that it was about £25 million. I never looked at any expenditure under £25 million, probably a higher figure—it would have been impossible for a Minister to do so—but the civil servants were involved in day-to-day decisions on such matters. The idea that all that civil servants do is give advice to Ministers is fiction. They are engaged in the day-to-day exercise of executive authority. They place contracts. They have to see whether the public get value for money. They have to see whether contracts are executed on time. They have to see whether the goods that are supplied are of the standard that the Department requires. Those are all Executive decisions, taken not by Ministers, not in consultation with Ministers, but on the responsibility of civil servants.
If the Government's extraordinary response were taken at face value, it would be impossible for the Select Committee on Defence to scrutinise the activities of civil servants with respect to the execution of their responsibilities. I find it difficult to see how the work of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration would be carried out if the response were taken at face value. But it is not for me to talk about the work of other Select Committees. I merely note that the response by the Government to our fourth report apparently will be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure, the Select Committee on Treasury and Civil Service and the Liaison Committee. I hope very much that all Select Committees will consider the Government's response, particularly paragraphs 42 to 44, and come to a view so that they can give guidance to their Chairmen when the Liaison Committee, which I gather will also consider it on 20 November, takes a view on it. I hope that the overwhelming corpus of hon. Members who belong to Select Committees can present a united front to the Leader of the House on the matter.
This line of the Government's is new. It is simply untenable. I hope that all of us, as parliamentarians, will resist it strongly. We are here to protect people against maladministration and injustice. If we cannot scrutinise the work or responsibility of individual officials, our task will be made impossible.
As I said, there are three possibilities for the Government. They can openly repudiate the document, 368 which is asking a lot of any Government. They can quietly not enforce it, which I suspect is what will happen, or perhaps we shall have from the Leader of the House tonight one of those elegant clarifications for which he is widely known and popular. However, the response was brought about by pique and fear, largely as a result of the Government's realisation of the power of a determined Select Committee to investigate cases of malpractice in government.
I only wish that we had occasion today to vote on the Select Committee report, because I believe that it would have had the overwhelming support of the House. I doubt very much whether the Government's response would have had very much support. I suspect that that is why we are discussing the matter on an Adjournment debate rather than, as is more normal, on a debate to take note of or to approve either the Select Committee report or the Government's response. The Government's response is the last shabby, untenable outcome of the affair. It is an attempt by the Government to gag Select Committees, which means also a high proportion of Members of the House, in the exercise of their constitutional duty. I hope that when the time comes the House will have none of it.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
I share with the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) a dislike for paragraphs 42 to 44 of the Government's response. I think that I am the third member of the Select Committee on Defence who has taken part in the debate. It is an unsatisfactory debate because it is in three parts. The Committee's third report is quite separate from the fourth report. Then there are what I regard as the grave constitutional implications of paragraphs 42 to 44 which affect all Select Committees and, I think, Parliament and our relationships with our constituents and outside bodies.
The third report has been clearly and well dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins). However, I shall pick out one or two points in the Government's response to the report. I was delighted that paragraph 27 of the Government's response said that there were excellent working relationships between the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence, both formally and informally. Those excellent working relationships have not always been apparent to members of the Select Committee or, I suspect, to many people outside the House. We believe that the possibility of a ministerial aerospace board, which has been suggested in the past, should have been considered further. Quite clearly, it was communications, among other things, and, dare I say it, a lack of manufacturing industrial strategy in the DTI that precipitated some of the problems that we are discussing today.
Paragraph 9 refers to the Air Mobile Brigade. I was interested to hear what the Secretary of State for Defence said. I urge him to give sympathetic consideration to the Select Committee's proposal. To the best of my knowledge, all our allies and partners are pursuing that capability. It would be odd if we were the only member of NATO to go in the opposite direction. That capability would give us maximum flexibility and would allow us to make a rapid response. If we were to disband the Air Mobile Brigade, it would lose a lot of expertise and experience. I hope that there will he a positive response, notwithstanding the resource implications that are always with the Ministry of Defence.
369 Paragraph 10 mentions the responsibility of the Army as users of support helicopters. I am bound to say that I am not convinced by the replies of the Secretary of State and the Government. The arguments used by the Secretary of State could apply to the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy is a user and is responsible for a helicopter programme. One of the reasons the EH101 is a success story, is going ahead and is far advanced is that in 1980 the Navy as a user identified what it wanted and went ahead with it. The same is true of the sonar links, the strike links and various helicopters in the Navy's arsenal. I do not say it in any anti-RAF terms, but having a divided responsibility between the Army and the RAF is not to the benefit of either. I hope that the Minister will seriously consider how the Royal Navy's responsibility, both from the point of view of user and of taking it through, has worked extremely well over the past few years and should, in my view and in that of the Select Committee, apply to the Army.
I was disappointed with the dampening effect of paragraph 6 and the fact that the Ministry of Defence poured cold water on the Select Committee's suggestion to fit Sea Eagle to the EH 101. That would significantly increase the surface-to-air strike capability of our frigates in the early 1990s; otherwise they will rely on links with the Sea Skua. Later, the type 23 frigate will not have links; it will have the EH 101. I remind the Ministry of Defence that, if the Indian Navy can have Sea Kings fitted with Sea Eagle, it should not be beyond the capacity of the Royal Navy to have EH101s fitted with Sea Eagle. I hope that that matter will be considered and that the Minister will be slightly more enthusiastic about it.
I think that the Government's response to the fourth report was a pretty thin gruel. I endorse everything that has been said by most hon. Members who have spoken. The Government argued, at paragraph 32 in their response, that the head of the Home Civil Service, Sir Robert Armstrong, is not the direct superior of officials in the Department of Trade and Industry. The Select Committee's report never said that he was. The Government went on to say:The Head of the Home Civil Service does not supervise, and has never supervised, the day-to-day work of members of the Prime Minister's office: he is their superior only as a result of the Prime Minister's office being treated for 'pay and rations' as part of the Cabinet Office".The whole point that we made in our report, which came out in the cross-examination of Sir Robert Armstrong by myself and others, was that Sir Robert Armstrong said that he was responsible for pay and rations.
However, when he was questioned earlier about whether Mr. Ingham, the senior information officer at No. 10, should have known the rules governing the release of Law Officers' advice, he said that of course there were rules—a special category of Law Officers' advice. Later, he said that he was responsible; he was Mr. Ingham's boss, in Civil Service terms. When I said that it would be his responsibility that Mr. Ingham should be aware of advice issued to people at his level, Sir Robert Armstrong said that it would.
That goes far beyond the question of pay and rations. It is unsatisfactory, as the Committee said, to have a person who is Secretary of the Cabinet and head of the Home Civil Service taking part in an investigation of one of the key people, Mr. Ingham, who is his immediate 370 subordinate and is responsible for seeing that he is properly briefed on a matter such as the Law Officers' advice. Yet the head of the Home Civil Service carried out the investigation. If such an investigation were conducted in the services or in a police force, a person from outside would be chosen to head the investigation, not the immediate superior of the person who may have some responsibility. That is just one example. I believe that there are many others. If time allowed, one could consider why the Government's response to the Select Committee's report was unsatisfactory.
The most unsatisfactory part of the Government's response concerns paragraphs 42 to 44 on the question of accountability. The Government's reply fails to state that two important conditions were made prior to the recommendations of the first report—the 1977–78 report of the Select Committee on Procedure. The first was that the Select Committee should have the power to order attendance of persons to give evidence and, second, that Select Committees should have power to order production of papers and records by any Minister. It is significant that those two conditions are not in the Government's reply.
I do not need to remind the House of the difficulties that the Defence Committee had: indeed, the right hon. Member for Dudley, East reminded the House earlier. If the Government's prohibition had been in force, Sir Robert Armstrong and Sir Brian Hayes would not have been able to give evidence. It is difficult to see what evidence the Committee could have taken unless the Prime Minister had been called before it, and that would have been most unsatisfactory.
The right hon. Member for Dudley, East and others referred to the position of accounting officers and that of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration — the Ombudsman Committee —privilege, and the fact that this Government, quite rightly, have followed their predecessors' practice and have increasingly given more power and management responsibility to civil servants. Whatever words one may use—I use the words "financial management initiatives"—the fact of that matter is that government is big business. We delude ourselves if we think that Ministers in any large spending Department whose expenditure runs into billions of pounds are au fait with all the details.
The right hon. Member for Dudley, East gave examples of his experience in the Ministry 10 years ago. I can speak with slightly more recent experience of the same Ministry, and he is absolutely right. I encourage that practice if we are to get the right men and women into the Civil Service. It is a charade to expect Ministers to be responsible for accounting officers, and so on, and for management development, if the Government cut off those people from giving evidence to Select Committees and accounting for their actions.
Five or six years ago the Government—all credit to them — increased the number of Select Committees. Government then became more open and more accountable. If paragraphs 42 to 44 are adopted by the Government and become the future norm, not only will we turn the clock back but the Civil Service may not respond well. It will make total nonsense of trying to get more management experience and more financial accountability in the various Government Departments. It will be a bad day for the House. We will not have accountability from Ministers unless, from time to time, there is a plethora of ministerial resignations, and I do not think that anyone 371 wants to go back to the days of Crichel Down. We will have more secret Government and more investigations of the type seen in this affair. That is not satisfactory. That cannot be in the interests of good Parliament, good Government or good democracy.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)
It is a pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). In his latter remarks he mentioned some of the difficulties that Select Committees, especially the Select Committee on Defence, would face if the Government's strictures in paragraphs 42 to 44 of their response to the report of the Select Committee on Defence were adopted.
There are some further difficulties. Is it the intention of paragraph 44 that a person such as Mr. Peter Levene, who is responsible for expenditure of about £9 billion, should not be questioned by a Select Committee about his conduct? A few days ago my hon. Friend for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and I met the newly appointed Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement who, through no fault of his own, was not up to date on matters concerning the royal dockyards, but it was obvious—I hope that I am not disclosing anything confidential—that Dr. Harte, who is responsible for the day-to-day deliberations on the contractors who are likely to take charge of the royal dockyards at Devonport and Rosyth, and the information going to Ministers, was fully conversant with what was involved. If the recommendations in paragraph 44 are followed, it will not be possible to question Dr. Harte about his conduct in the negotiations. That would be reprehensible.
The Secretary of State for Defence, when responding to the Committee's report on helicopters, mentioned some of the problems associated with foreign ownership. He should consider the fact that some of the bidders for the dockyards are directly owned by United States companies, particularly Foster Wheeler, which I understand will be the favoured contractor in Devonport if the policy comes to fruition.
I was interested in the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) about collective responsibility. Paragraph 177 of the fourth report—I recognise that it is easy to quote out of context — deals with the behaviour of individuals. It states:In the unusual and sometimes bizarre reasoning which has been put before us, a justification has been given for each step taken. Although those involved must carry blame for what occurred, what seems especially reprehensible is a manner of doing business where the direct and honourable course does not present itself to the exclusion of all else.If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is to rest much of his case on collective responsibility and the resuscitation of collective responsibility, a direct and honourable approach ought to present itself to the exclusion of all others. It is bizarre that, from 3 to 6 January 1986, in that inter-relationship between the Prime Minister's Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, no one thought of telephoning the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) to ask, "What are you up to?" The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks did not think of saying to the Prime Minister, "Why should we not go to the Solicitor-General and ask him to write a letter? Why do I not ring Michael and have a talk?"
That would have been a direct and honourable approach. Indeed, if the right hon. and learned Member 372 for Richmond, Yorks had direct departmental responsibility, he could have said to the Cabinet at some stage—perhaps he did; we are not privy to Cabinet minutes—"It is very odd that a campaign is being conducted in the press by the right hon. Member for Henley. It is extremely embarrassing to me. I am the Minister. Will you. Prime Minister, call us together and sort this out?" That approach would have been direct and honourable. I do not know why that was not done.
I have never been a member of a Government, and I am unlikely to be. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should not all cheer. There have been Labour Prime Ministers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South (Mr. Callaghan) is one example. I cannot imagine these matters being ventilated in the press on a day-to-day basis without some calls for an honourable approach. I cannot imagine the former Prime Minister, Lord Wilson, not following a similar approach. If collective responsibility is to be reintroduced, we should have in mind a more direct arid honourable approach to these affairs.
The Secretary of State for Defence sought some succour from paragraph 183 of the Select Committee's report, which effectively lets the Prime Minister off the hook. The paragraph states:The evidence is that the action of the Prime Minister's office on 6 January in relation to the disclosure was without her direct authority. She has stated that she had no knowledge on 6 January of what was taking place.That statement practically lets the Prime Minister off the hook. Those words were carefully chosen. The disclosure was without her authority. The words deal with 6 January; they do not deal with 4 January or any other period.
The leader of the Liberal party has put his gloss on that episode. The Select Committee used that phrase. Let us consider the consequences if we did otherwise. If we do not accept the Prime Minister's words, in effect we have to say that she was lying, that she was not telling the truth, and we would have to prove it. The only way to do so would be to summon the Prime Minister and ask her or her civil servants to give evidence on oath.
The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) laid great stress on the importance of having a unanimous report. As a Select Committee member, I agree. I do not think that we would have done a service to the House if we had produced a divided report.
Therefore, we spent a long time on the report. I make no apology for that, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert), and in particular the Tory members of the Committee, on undertaking this arduous tasks of achieving a unanimous report. We saw ourselves, individually and collectively, as servants of the House performing a task. Although we had embarked on an investigation, the task was placed on the Select Committee by the House of Commons and we had to discharge that duty. I repeat that the words chosen, particularly in paragraph 183, were designed to keep the Committee united. I make no apology for suggesting that these words do not completely — nor can they — exonerate the Prime Minister from her activities or her responsibilities over her civil servants.
We probed Sir Robert Armstrong, and it was an interesting experience to see the head of the Civil Service come before a Select Committee. He is a slick operator and a skilful man, and there came a point in our proceedings when he knew very well that he was round Tattenham 373 corner and into the home straight, and he sat back and began to tell jokes about the pig and the hen, and a bacon and egg breakfast. He was completely relaxed then.
Despite the Government's response to the Select Committee, particularly in paragraph 44, we should not kid ourselves that these people are shrinking violets and have to be protected when they come before Select Committees. They are well armed and highly educated men and women, as they have to be. Therefore, it is nonsense for the Government to suggest that they need a great deal of protection. These people often have a responsibility for considerable budgets, and Select Committees should be able to probe them.
We come now to the activities of the Attorney-General. This is not the first debate that we have had on these affairs. I was most interested in the remarks made in an Adjournment debate on 24 July by the right hon. and learned member for Southport (Sir I. Percival). He spoke in defence of the Attorney-General's actions in granting immunity and in defence of the phraseology used by the Attorney-General when he said that there was no reason why he should pursue anyone in the courts because of his actions in this affair.
To clarify the actions of the Attorney-General, we need a clear statement from him on exactly what was said to him by Sir Robert Armstrong before he granted immunity. Was the Attorney-General told that the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks was taking full responsibility, and was the right hon. and learned Gentleman named in these conversations, thus enabling the Attorney-General to give clearance?
§ Mr. Dalyell
Some civil servants, one of whom, if The Times is to be believed, is Miss Colette Bowe, have stored away in bank vaults their version of events. If the civil servants' version did not differ significantly from that of the Government, why did they go to the trouble of doing that?
§ Mr. Douglas
That is a matter for Miss Colette Bowe or anybody else, perhaps my hon. Friend, to comment on, if he thinks fit. However, it is clear that Sir Robert Armstrong's notes will be available, or could be available, to the House if it presses the matter of these investigations. It would be worth while for the Select Committee to probe exactly what procedures he undertook on the inquiry.
The Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne, to the best of my knowledge, in his remarks to the House, did not repeat what the Committee said in a press release a week ago. He said that we saw no reason to modify anything that we had said in the report. Therefore, these reports in totality, and particularly the fourth report, are an indictment of the Government's approach to Select Committees and how they behave towards the House. In particular, they are an indictment of the Prime Minister's form of government.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I remind the House that the 10-minute limit on speeches is now in operation, and I appeal for the co-operation of those right hon. and hon. Members who are fortunate enough to be called.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
In its earlier stages the debate concentrated on defence matters, but increasingly it has concentrated on the Government's reply to the report from the Select Committee on Defence and, in particular, its conclusions.
I feel it important that the content of those paragraphs should be correctly analysed, for they deal, in the widest possible terms, with the question of accountability. The reply concludes by saying:the Government proposes to make it clear to civil servants giving evidence to Select Committees that they should not answer questions which are or appear to be directed to the conduct of themselves or of other named individual civil servants.It is unfortunate that that statement should be made in reply to this report because, as the House knows, the Treasury and Civil Service Committee reported on these issues in May and the Government's reply to that report was published on the same day as the report on Westland from the Select Committee on Defence. At that stage, there was no mention of the introduction of this idea, and to introduce it now and muddle it up in this debate is wrong.
It is right that we should be discussing this matter on the Adjournment, but I make it clear—I believe this is the view throughout the House—that the vote should in no way be taken to endorse those final paragraphs of the Government's reply. If that is not so, the Government most assuredly must make that clear—and if it were so, they would be defeated.
This sudden proposal has been made at short notice, with no consultation, and raises matters of the greatest interest and concern to the House, and in particular to the Select Committees. The right way forward is for the Treasury and Civil Service Committee to consider not only the Government's response to its report but the broad-ranging issues, and report again to the House. In due course, as appropriate, the Liaison Committee can consider what the implications are for the Select Committees, because they are serious. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will accept that this is not a satisfactory way to proceed. It is described as a proposal and should be treated as a proposal, and carefully reconsidered before anything further is done about it. I hope that my right hon. Friend can give us an assurance about that. There must be further discussion and analysis of this matter.
I stress the extent of common ground. In their reply to our seventh report, the Government endorsed the Committee's two basic propositions on accountability—that Ministers and not officials are responsible and accountable for policy and that officials' advice to Ministers is, and should remain, confidential. There is no dispute about that, and Committees operate well on that basis. If it is a matter of policy, the civil servant can say, "I am very sorry but I cannot answer that — it is a matter for the Minister." If the civil servant is asked what advice he gave the Minister, he can reply, "I am sorry, but I cannot tell you." All Select Committees accept that. The disagreement lies on the very narrow, but extremely important, point of whether civil servants should answer for their actions—or what the Government described in their response as their conduct. I believe their conduct and their actions are the same. Clearly, that is something that the House has a responsibility to investigate.
375 I want to comment on one or two of the arguments — if such they be — in the Government's response. Paragraph 41 states:Select Committees exercise their formal powers to inquire into the policies and actions of Departments by virtue of the accountability of Ministers to Parliament.If we consider that carefully, the sentence is nonsense. It continues:Civil servants who appear before them do so as representatives of and subject to the instructions of the Minister.That is a non sequitur. In any case, however we read those sentences they are wrong. That is not the reason why the House had authority to look into these matters. Select Committees exercise their formal powers to inquire into the policies and actions of Departments because Parliament is sovereign and it has established Select Committees to monitor Government Departments, and has given them the traditional powers to send for persons and papers. It is presumptuous for the Government's reply to be couched in the terms that were used.
There are conventions on the way in which those powers should be exercised. If a witness refuses to appear, he may be formally summoned to do so by the Committee. If that does not succeed, the Committee must come to the Floor of the House. The proposal before us is wrong. It is likely to be ineffective because it would not have changed the way in which a Committee can operate. It can still come to the Floor of the House and insist on calling that witness.
We can trace cases of this kind back over the centuries. There is no way in which a reply as an obiter dictum to a Commitee report can undermine that position. The reality is that Committees act sensibly in their use of privilege. There is no modern instance of a Select Committee using its formal powers to force a civil servant to answer a question. Even if the powers were abused, Ministers can still defend their case on the Floor of the House. There is no argument to support that statement in the reply to the report of the Select Committee on Defence, and that should be recognised.
We should also note the final sentence of the motion in the previous debate on 15 January 1986; which states that the Houserecognises the competence of departmental Select Committees of the House of Commons to consider the issues raised by these developments.That clearly includes the actions of civil servants. How can we now be told that the Government do notbelieve that a Select Committee is a suitable instrument for inquiring into or passing judgment upon the actions or conduct of an individual civil servant.I am severely restricted by time; it is difficult to deal with these matters in 10 minutes. I endorse what has already been said. Clearly, the proposal would undermine the work of the Public Accounts Committee, the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and the Privileges Committee. Is it seriously suggested that this doctrine should apply to the Privileges Committee if it wished to investigate a specific matter? There should not be two classes of Committee, some with rights to examine and others without.
It is very important that we should stress that the Government, in referring to a recommendation from the report of the 1977–78 Select Committee on Procedure that it would not be appropriate for the House to go directly below the level of Ministers, ignores the context in which the statement was made. The context was that the 376 Committee should have the right to send for Ministers without returning to the Floor of the House. We should not go around making selective quotations of that kind. I do not know who was responsible for drafting the reply, but it was badly drafted and the whole matter must be reconsidered.
Finally, much reference has been made to Crichel Down and there is a great deal of misunderstanding about that. That doctrine was largely set out by the Home Secretary in the debate on that matter. He distinguished various cases: the case where the official is directly under the instructions of the Minister; the case where the official is dealing with the policy as enunciated by the Minister. In those cases, the Minister must defend and protect the official. There is a third case, in which the individual may have done something wrong which was not too serious. In that case the Minister explains and takes the necessary action. It is stressed in the Crichel Down doctrine that the action of a civil servant which is outside the policy or disapproved of by the Minister, of which he knew nothing, does not mean that the Minister must defend him. In those circumstances there is no reason why he should not be named.
As was stated in the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee report, we must ensure that there is accountability to the House. I believe that that important argument must be considered by the House. Given that latest development, it is important for the House eventually to express a view on the matter—I hope with the Government's agreement.
It is curious that paragraph 44 of the reply sets out various reasons why it might be a mistake for named officials to reply to questions about their affairs and about specific civil servants. I do not believe that it is true that in the present circumstances the reputation of the civil servant concerned has been protected by an internal inquiry that has not been made public — a bland statement by Ministers that there is nothing to worry about and disciplinary action will not be necessary. Nor do I believe that that constitutes accountability to the House. It is vital that that accountability should be maintained and that the rights of Select Committees be preserved.
I commend to my right hon. Friend paragraph 3.18 of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee report, which states:We are not satisfied that a private internal inquiry which is not fully reported to Parliament constitutes accountability … We do not find this a convincing argument. The officials concerned might well have welcomed an opportunity to explain their actions in public (which would not, we stress, have been in conflict with the confidential nature of advice to Ministers). It would also have enabled Parliament to consider who was responsible for any mistakes and who ought to have been held accountable.The Committee's conclusion in paragraph 3.19 is clear. In addition to accountability, it states,We invite and recommend that the Government and other interested parties should produce for reconsideration specific proposals on how the crucial question of accountability should be dealt with in future.I believe that that is the right constructive response to accountability, rather than the kind of response to accountability that the Government have produced. I hope that my right hon. Friend will succeed in ensuring that that is the way in which matters will proceed.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
I want to express my gratitude to the Select Committee on Defence. I hope that the House will forgive me if I concentrate on two questions that remain unanswered. In my view they are, and remain, the key questions.
I put these questions to the Leader of the House in the course of his reply to a debate on 27 January. I hope that he will answer my questions now. First, did the Prime Minister canvass, with her advisers or any Minister, before she requested through her office, that the Solicitor-General should write his letter and the possibility of the letter being put into the public domain?
I believe that the closely drafted replies given by the Prime Minister as to her state of knowledge after the letter was written do not deal with her state of knowledge before the letter was written. If two Ministers, and more so a Minister and his servants, or the Prime Minister and a Minister, contemplate and agree one course of action, short of some dramatic change of circumstance, it would be improbable for the inferior in rank to go back to the superior for reaffirmation of the authority already given. Hence I venture to suggest that frequently the wrong question has been put to the Prime Minister. She had already agreed to what was to be a flagrant breach of constitutional properties before the Solicitor-General was requested to write his letter. It was a put-up job, as far as the Solicitor-General was concerned, the moment the idea was conceived and agreed upon.
Following a negative reply from the Prime Minister to my questions, I sent a long letter to her setting out my assertion that she had not answered my questions. I gave detailed references from Hansard. The letter is published in the evidence that is contained in the Select Committee's report. The Prime Minister replied that she had already given a full account of the circumstances.
I now put to the House additional matters to demonstrate why I believe that the Prime Minister had agreed beforehand the course of action that was taken. The Solicitor-General signed the letter at 11.15. The Department of Trade and Industry officials, including the head of information, first saw the letter at 1 pm. The Select Committee reported that the fact that the head of information had been alerted suggested that before Ministers were consulted, officials had in mind some public use of this information. It was the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) who said that it should go into the public domain and that No. 10 should be consulted. It had to be subject to the agreement of No. 10.
As for the differences in understanding between four officials at No.10 and the DTI, the Select Committee says that it is not impossible that four such officials should have been capable of identical misunderstandings. The Prime Minister repeated that the reason for disclosure was to get accurate information into the public domain.
At 2 o'clock Miss Bowe gave details to the Press Association. It was the Government's view that the giving of extracts of the Solicitor-General's letter was the only way to correct inaccuracies. No wonder the Select Committee found that it was quite extraordinary that five senior civil servants accepted this, apparently without demur. Westland had been told by telephone, in any event, 378 and Sir John Cuckney stated that it made no difference to his press conference. No wonder the Select Committee says:the reason given by the Prime Minister for releasing the information to the Press Association begins to look flimsy, to say the least.It is odd that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was not asked about it on either Saturday 4 January or Sunday 5 January, or invited to correct the misinformation that apparently he had provided.
The Select Committee found that the Government's reasoning was "unusual and sometimes bizarre." I agree with its finding. It is strange that nobody rang the Solicitor-General to explain the compelling need to correct the misinformation. He might have said that he could not reach a firm conclusion. The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks would not say why the Solicitor-General had not been told. The question remains unanswered. If, as the Government suggest, they are satisfied that those concerned acted in good faith, surely there can be no objection now to answering the question.
I make five specific points. First, in evidence Sir Robert Armstrong said that he had spoken to the Prime Minister and to the former Secretary of State and that he was in a position to confirm that there had been no prior clearance. He said that he had made other inquiries but he refused to state what they were. Apart from that, there is no other evidence to contradict my assertion.
Secondly, the value of Sir Robert's evidence is undermined first by the former Secretary of State's evidence—he clearly skirts around the issue and he has refused to answer specific questions on this point—and secondly by the Prime Minister's refusal to answer at all.
Thirdly, is it likely that Miss Bowe would have been present at a meeting without there being a clear presumption that there would be a public interface? Would officials, or even the Minister in particular, in view of his legal experience, have contemplated using the letter without prior authority from the Prime Minister?
Fourthly, the Prime Minister's considered replies do nothing to rebut this inference. She said:I was not consulted at the time.That leaves open the implication that she was consulted at an earlier stage.
Fifthly, other than as part of a plan that was conceived to discredit the right hon. Member for Henley, why was the Solicitor-General's opinion obtained in the first place on what was essentially a simple question as to whether or not two letters were or were not consistent? Any DTI official could have answered that question. The ability to read is not confined to lawyers. The inference must be that the Solicitor-General was used to provide clout, and that clout had to be delivered in public. The evidence seems to suggest, or at the very least does not controvert, the suggestion that the matter had been canvassed before the wheels were set in motion.
My second question was, and is, this: when the Prime Minister agreed to the setting up of the inquiry, did she know at that stage, or have reason to believe, that it was an official leak? Was it a bogus inquiry from her point of view? Was it a put-up job on the Prime Minister's part from the beginning? Was it something to buy off the Attorney-General?
This question is also outstanding. Despite telling the House on numerous occasions what she did not know until the inquiry reported, she has repeatedly failed to say what 379 she did know when she instigated the inquiry. In particular, she has never clarified what the communications in "general terms" between her office and the DTI were.
The Select Committee expressed surprise that, despite the fact that Mr. Powell and Mr. Ingham knew what had happened, the Prime Minister was not told. Furthermore, they expressly assert that Sir Robert knew that the disclosure had been authorised when he commenced his inquiry. It is a little hard to believe that the Prime Minister was not told that until 22 January when she said:An enormous number of the facts were not known to me until yesterday".—[Official Report, 23 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 455–456.]Details, yes; the broad statement that it was all along an an official leak, no. The reality is that the Prime Minister could not answer, and that she cannot answer, the second question without prejudicing her position on the first.
If all acted in good faith, why should there not be a full and fresh disclosure now? To repeat the parrot cry that she has given a full account to which she has nothing to add is the repetitive denial, so often experienced, of someone who has no answer to make to a charge. The failure to answer these basic questions is a blot on the honour and integrity of the Prime Minister. Paragraph 183 does not exonerate her. It limits her to the knowledge on 6 January of direct action and what her office was doing on that day. It is a very limited conclusion.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
I speak as a member of the Select Committee who has taken a very close interest in the inquiry. I attended all 39 of the evidence-taking and deliberative sessions, save one on the day that my daughter was born. Therefore, I have a deep interest in the future of the Select Committee system. I speak also as one who was not consulted on the creation of the Select Committees in their present form because I was not a Member of the previous Parliament. Therefore I hope that the House will forgive me if I deal mainly with the constitutional points that have been raised today.
It is an attractive crusade that represents indignant Back Benchers against a recalcitrant and secretive Executive and is about the rights of Back Benchers to receive the fullest possible information from civil servants. However, there are some difficulties in this rosy scenario and I should like to outline them. Our legislature is very different from the United States Congress or from any parliament created by a written constitution. Like our common law, it has evolved slowly by precedent into what is largely an adversarial affair conducted on the Floor of this Chamber. It is conducted in the full blaze of publicity and before all Members of Parliament if they choose to attend.
Some people have argued that such notions are outdated and too partisan and shallow for the work of Parliament in overseeing the complexities of modern government. In that context I am thinking of what Shirley Williams said in her book. Despite that, our Parliament is a uniquely exciting and vibrant assembly, though admittedly the competition from our sister 380 democratic assemblies is rather abysmal. Anybody visiting parliaments abroad or staring down from the public gallery at the sheer tedium of the United States Congress would bear witness to the peculiar character and dramatic effect of this House in full cry. In the debates about Westland and in the questions and statements, we saw that side of the character of the House brought out to full effect.
The tradition which sustains the cut and thrust in this House is based on the necessity of Ministers to be accountable in the fullest sense as Members of this House or of the other place. Nothing bore this out to more effect than the dramatic resignation of two Cabinet Ministers at the height of the Westland affair. We do not have a bane des ministres as in the Assemblie Nationale in Paris, filled with dry technocrats recruited from the universities or from big business and brought in to make formal orations from some tribune of the people in front of a semi-circular assembly.
Unlike the United States, we do not have a chief executive who comes down once a year from some Olympian height to give a state of the union address. Ours is a remarkable achievement nurtured by long centuries of development, tradition and precedent. It is all too easy to destroy those long years of achievement in the span of one Parliament. In that context I rely on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) that there is nothing innovative in the Government's response to the report that I signed.
Let us look again at the campaign for Parliament's rights that we have heard about in this debate. We are told that those rights are encompassed in the alleged wrongs inflicted on Select Committees by the Government's response to the Defence Committee's report. That response is contained in paragraph 44 and I shall not repeat the wording of the paragraph. Civil servants should not be required to answer questions about their conduct. If we look at the Government's response we will see that we are not being asked to question whether civil servants should be answerable for administrative affairs or policy. We are simply dealing with matters of conduct.
As I have said, the tradition that gives our Parliament so much of its colour and vigour is based on the concept of ministerial responsibility on the Floor of the House. Anything that detracts from that duel of wits over the Dispatch Box detracts in a real sense from Parliament itself. To the extent to which some Members who happen to be members of a Select Committee are given an even larger role, so is the role of all Members diminished.
Sadly, the role of this Chamber has already been diminished. We know the reasons for that and many of those reasons are inevitable. We should hesitate carefully before attempting to turn Select Committees into the kind of powerful instrument that they are in the American Congress, because that would hasten the flight of interest from this Chamber. However, Select Committees have a role to play. It is to question and dig away at the kind of detail that we cannot possibly scrutinise on the Floor of the House. Select Committees fall down in attempting to tackle items of acute party political controversy. That is not a criticism of the members of Select Committees because, as in the Committee that looked into the Westland affair, there is no choice. The duty is placed on the Select Committee by Parliament as a whole.
Inevitably, in inquiries into areas of acute controversy, the members of Select Committees, once the evidence has 381 been taken, are faced with three kinds of report. They can support the Government line outright, criticise it but not too much, or oppose the Government line outright and support what the Opposition parties have said in the House. The first and third courses serve no purpose; they would simply result in the Committee aping what has been said in the House. All the pressure on Committee members, and the only sensible approach, is to devise a report that mildly criticises the Government and suggests some mild reform or other, perferably a little to the left or right of what one side or the other is saying. That is the kind of report that a Select Committee usually signs.
The result of that is that the newspapers are pleased and the headline writers can say, "All-party report criticises Government". That is news. The Opposition are pleased because they can go along to the Tea Room and tell their colleagues that they have persuaded Government Members to hammer the Government. Government Members of the Committee are pleased because they can say to themselves that they are men of conscience and principle and perhaps that is why they have not been promoted. The result is that everybody is pleased.
As we have heard, in many respects the Westland report was masterly, but of course it fell into that category. I make no apologies for that. We had no less than 24 prolonged and hard deliberative sessions. I have no intention of reporting to the House what went on in those private sessions but a shrewd observer might conclude that some Labour members of the Committee might have wanted to go further and that I might not have wanted to go so far. Politics being the art it is, we made compromises. I put my name to the report and I stand by that because it is a well balanced attempt to set out in great detail the history of the Westland affair.
Perhaps that provides me with an opportunity to depart from the constitutional issues at stake and to emphasise the significance of paragraph 183. I need not labour the point about the paragraph because it has frequently been made during the debate. That paragraph exonerates the Prime Minister from any blame or involvement in this affair. It is not good enough for the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) to dig away and to say that perhaps we did not discuss that matter. The hon. Gentleman put his name to a report containing paragraph 183 and that absolves the Prime Minister from any blame. In that sense I view the report as satisfactory. Like all reports from Select Committees to which everybody puts his name, I accept that it is necessarily a compromise.
By giving Select Committees more power we would wean power away from the Chamber and I would regret that. Select Committees are best advised to deal with matters that are not central to the party political stage of the moment. We should take care before dramatically increasing the powers of Select Committees, because that would bypass the traditional responsibility of Ministers to the House. To allow them to interview civil servants in their Departments or perhaps in their private offices, not just on matters of administration or policy but on their competence, would be a dangerous step. That is why I welcome the Government's response to the report.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
I shall not follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and 382 Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), because I found his speech somewhat convoluted and generalised. Perhaps it was designed to take attention away from the embarrassing details that have been so cogently and perceptively illuminated in speeches by hon. Members from both sides.
I am sure hon. Members will appreciate that I wish to speak rather more to the third report than to the fourth. I shall do so, wishing now, as I wished throughout the Westland crisis, that the probity of the Government and the future of Westland could be separated. The problems of Westland plc and the effect that they have on my constituency and on the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) are worthy of discussion in their own right, and that has all too frequently been obscured by the broader constitutional debate.
I agree with other right hon. and hon. Members that Westland's position is now—it has to be said, and I am glad to say it—immeasurably stronger than it was earlier this year. The capital base of the company has been restored, an excellent working relationship has been established with its new partners, Sikorsky and Fiat, the licence to produce the Black Hawk has been negotiated, and the first Black Hawk aircraft produced in Yeovil will roll out of the aircraft hangers next year.
Contrary to the dire prophecies made by those who wished to give strength to their own positions earlier this year, European co-operation on helicopter production has proceeded without check and apace. The profitability of the company has risen and continues to rise, and morale among the work force is improving, even if communications within the company have not always been as good as many of us would have liked.
In short, Westland has now taken steps which should assure its long-term viability, without a single penny of cost to the taxpayer. It would be wrong to say that this has been done without cost to jobs, production and morale, and to the ability of management to control the situation. One cannot threaten the whole future of a company, as the Government have done, without doing some damage. However, the strength of the company has prevailed, not least because of its excellent leadership and the unity of purpose and commitment of its work force.
Westland has therefore fulfilled its part of the bargain, despite an almost criminal level of neglect of its problems by the Government in the latter part of last year, and despite being treated as a political football by some of the most powerful in the land in the early part of this year. I wish I could say bluntly that the Government had fulfilled their part in the reconstruction of Westland's future, but I can make no such statement. The future of helicopter policy in Britain, and with it the future of Westland, remains shrouded in uncertainty. None of that has been lifted by the opaque and vague speech of the Secretary of State for Defence, who merely rehashed statements made in the past and did not provide the signposts that we need for the future.
We are told that the helicopter review now in progress should be completed by the end of November, at which time it will be considered by the Secretary of State. If I welcome that review, it is not without a degree of scepticism.
The Secretary of State said that we should not rush into these matters, but we have been trying to formulate a helicopter policy for this country for 17 years. During this period Westland has had to muddle through as best it can, 383 without a clear idea of what the Government wanted in the long term. The Select Committee on Defence called for the present review to be completed by the autumn so that the Secretary of State could take a view by the end of the year. It appears from the Secretary of State's speech that that will not happen. I repeat the view of the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) who said that if it were to appear late, and especially later next year, that might prove too late for thousands of jobs and for the future viability of Westland as a major helicopter manufacturer.
All those in the know are indicating that the current review will offer nothing substantial about future helicopter policy and will be bland in its recommendations. The most likely proposals put to Ministers are, it seems, to run on the Wessex and Puma aircraft—something at which the Secretary of State hinted — and to order no further helicopters until the EH101 is in production. I must say to the Secretary of State in the clearest terms possible that any such recommendation will be bad for Her Majesty's forces, a severe blow to Britain's aerospace industry and damaging to exports and could be potentially devastating for Westland.
The decision for the Secretary of State is essentially a political one. He will, first, have to consider what is best for the armed forces. The central issue is to clarify the Government's policy towards helicopters in the land battle. The Government must fulful the requirements stated in AST 404 and not dodge them. I accept, and Westland accepts, that there may be a number of solutions to that problem — the Black Hawk, the EH101 or the Lynx. The only decision that is wholly unacceptable is that no decision be taken, and the future once again be fudged.
With the United States and the USSR both taking steps to expand their air mobility through the increased use of helicopters, it cannot make sense for Britain to be moving in the opposite direction. The United Kingdom armed services helicopter fleet has declined by nearly 8 per cent. since 1979, while all other armed forces are increasing theirs. United States sources have calculated that the British Army on the Rhine is now 100 helicopters light on its actual needs within the mobile war which NATO is planning to fight. The Government seem to fail to recognise what all other Governments have seen so clearly, that with diminishing manpower resources, and in the face of a numerically stronger Soviet force, helicopters have a unique role to play as a force multiplier.
With current helicopter resources, it takes four to five hours to airlift a British Army battalion, whereas the USA and USSR can airlift a whole brigade in much less time. The problem with our helicopters on the central front is not just with their quantity, but with their quality. The Army still depends on ancient RAF Wessex, the oldest helicopter fleet in the world. If it was right to replace the Royal Navy Wessex 5 with the new Sea King 4 for the Royal Marines, why is it not right to replace the Wessex on the central front also?
Next, the Secretary of State must consider the impact of his plans on the British aerospace industry. There is discussion about the possible purchase of the Boeing Chinook heavy lift helicopters. Has the Secretary of State no idea of how damaging that decision would be to the United Kingdom helicopter industry and its aerospace suppliers? How could such a decision line up with the Government's previously declared support for the EH101? Why are the Government continuing to equivocate on the 384 NH90 project? Given the amount of taxpayers' money already sunk into this future aircraft, the Government must recognise that re-inventing the Super Puma as a collaborative venture would throw away investment, waste export opportunities and undoubtedly destroy jobs.
Let me turn, finally, to the impact on Westland itself. I should remind the House that Westland is the provider of 9,000 high technology jobs, not just in my constituency but in that of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Isle of Wight and in that of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), and also in other areas. As 70 per cent. of the value of a modern helicopter is brought in from outside, Westland is the purchaser of a large amount of aerospace equipment from up and down Britain. As such it is a key component in Britain's aerospace industry, as well as being our nation's only helicopter manufacturer.
What Westland needs most at present is a decision. It is the uncertainty imposed by Government shilly-shallying and indecision which has so sapped morale and created difficulties for management. Therefore, I ask the Secretary of State to give a clear decision as soon as possible so that Westland's future can be planned. We do not need the £1 million which the Government seem prepared to put into Rover, or the kind of money which they were prepared to use to bail out their friends in Johnson Matthey. Indeed, we are not asking for any money. Westland is not asking for charity—we never have. We are asking only for a clear idea of what the Government want, so that we can get ahead and plan how best to meet the nation's needs. Surely that is not asking too much?
Above all, my plea to the Secretary of State is to give us a decision and to be clear about it. It would be wrong to suggest that there are not some decisions that are preferable to others. While the long-term future of Westland is now assured with the EH101 project, the short term remains a cause for considerable concern.
The worst scenario of all would be no decision, but the second worst would be a decision where the Government sought to run on our decrepit and ancient helicopters for the Army without replacement. It seems that this is what the Secretary of State is considering. If we were to do that, we should have to lay off, in the face of the trough in the work that Westland has until the end of this decade, one of Westland's most priceless assets—its design teams. We should not only have to pay for those redundancies, but we should have to re-recruit that staff in the early 1990s. The Secretary of State and all hon. Members must know that, with the present technology skill gap in our country, that would be very difficult.
In short, what is at risk is nothing less than Westland's survival, not as a company—as the Secretary of State has said, it is strong enough to diversify — but as a major helicopter manufacturer in its own right.
We all know the difficulties which the Government are facing over this matter. Trident is causing this cut in defence expenditure. We all know that Westland may be a casualty of that. That obsession has caused the current situation.
Westland has been dealt with ill by this Government over the past three years. It was first ignored and then treated as a political shuttlecock. It now deserves better from the Department of Trade and Industry and from the Government. Westland has played its part, and I hope that the Minister will now play his.
The shilly-shallying, indecision and mismanagement which have been the chief characteristics of the 385 Government's approach to this great company must now stop. The future prosperity of the community which I represent, thousands of jobs and the defence of this nation now depend upon it.
§ Sir Edward du Cann (Taunton)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) spoilt his speech with such political rubbish at its end. However, I agree that the nation needs a clear helicopter policy. The nation and Somerset both need a strong and prosperous Westland company and I am sure that, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that is exactly what we have and will have.
Limited for time, I rise to make a single point. The Government's response to the Select Committee's report adopts an astonishing position in relation to accountability. It proposes, in effect, that it is for the Government, not Parliament, in future to decide the scope of Select Committees inquiries into their work. Such a doctrine in our democracy must be promptly rejected.
The political division in Britain and in the House between Socialists and Conservatives — the political battle, indeed — part ideological, part practical, is whether the state's involvement in our national life should be greater in extent or less. What unites us, or at least the Back Benchers, is the duty, whatever the extent of that involvement may be, to ensure that the actions of the Executive — the Government — are brought under an effective and continuous scrutiny. That is what the electors trust us to do. They also trust us to establish methods by which we can, in this modern complex age, achieve it.
Before the 1979 general election, the Conservative party pledged itself toseek to make it"—Parliament—effective in its job of controlling the Executive.Thereafter, the new departmentally related Select Committees were established, approved and supported by the whole House. It was the intention, the then Leader of the House said, toredress the balance of power between Whitehall and Westminster".Full co-operation was promised in the name of the Government. The Leader of the House said thatthe objective of the new Committee structure would be to strengthen the accountability of MinistersHe went on:Each Committee will be able to examine the whole range of activity for which its Minister or Ministers have direct responsibility.Thus, full co-operation was pledged on the part of the Government. The Committees were given wide powers to send for persons and papers. On those clear, specific assurances the Government now, apparently, seek, almost casually, to renege. That is unacceptable.
It is generally agreed that the Select Committee system has been a success. Daylight has been brought into the decision-making process. There has been a new career opportunity for Members of Parliament away from the dominance of the parties. There has been a platform for Ministers and civil servants to explain, debate and discuss policies. There has been more information for Members of Parliament and our debates have been better informed in consequence. In sum, the establishment of the Committees 386 has been an important constitutional advance. We still have some distance to go. Control of money is what we must take in the House; when we first refuse to vote money, we shall have begun to exercise real authority.
But suddenly now the Government say that they intend to change the rules of the game with regard to all Government evidence to all Select Committees. Yet the words they use at the end of their reply to the Select Committee on Defence simply do not stand up in the case of the Public Accounts Committee, the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and so on. It is charitable to assume that the reply simply has not been thought through. I particularly regret it because, until now, the Government's attitude to the new Select Committees has, on the whole, been exemplary.
The creation of the Committees in 1979 will always be looked back on as an historic decision, from which the House and the country have benefited greatly. There have been many cases since then when there have been disagreements, and perhaps friction, between the two sides, but by and large they have gradually been settled in a sensible House of Commons way with compromise on both sides. In my experience of four years, if my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) will allow me to say so as his predecessor, the first Chairman of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee and the Liaison Select Committee, I do not recall one instance of real difficulty. It is against the grain of that happy experience that the Government have now acted so rashly, and they have done so on the basis of a single case which cannot be considered typical of Select Committee work.
What is to be done? Frankly, the report must be withdrawn. Nothing else will do. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing is right to arrange for the Liaison Committee to consider the situation and I hope that the Procedure Select Committee will do so also. I hope that both Committees will publish their views and that they will be strong and clear.
Make no mistake 'about what is at stake in this matter. It is of the utmost importance. The Government have given in the paper their reply to the modest observations of a Select Committee of the House — that they will henceforward limit the effectiveness and authority of Parliament. "Be damned if you will," would be my comment. "And so say all of us," I hope will be the echo in all quarters of the House. Any Government are the servant of our people and never their master. Parliament, the people's elected representatives in the House, must be sovereign in its own House. The scope of the authority of Parliament is for Parliament to decide, not for some ministerial diktat to propose.
Who wrote this anonymous rubbish? Which Minister or Ministers approved it? They should come here and apologise to us. Nothing ever should interrupt or curtail the right of elected Members of Parliament to criticise, to inquire, to investigate, to expose inefficiency, waste, incompetence or corruption, or even to praise when praise is due, as it so often is.
If the debate, curtailed as it has so unfortunately been, refreshes and re-emphasises that constitutional right, that constitutional duty, it will have been well worth while.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On 18 November 1985 I visited Westland at Yeovil. Taken round by Bill Gueterbock and shop stewards, I was told of the 387 company's plight and its need for orders and of the lack of interest from Ministers. Therefore, I shall be acquitted of lack of concern about the British helicopter industry and the charge of simply making political mischief. When I was in Yeovil in November last year, the company was desperate to get Ministers to look at its problems.
If I concentrate on the Law Officer's letter, it is not, to borrow Brian Redhead's dismissive phrase this morning, about "Westminster shenanigans"; it is about the integrity of the British Government.
Like the rest of us, I am a party politician. But, above that in certain matters, I am a child of the House of Commons and party can come second. I care about how the House is treated by Ministers, however exalted they are. My Front Bench knows that I was critical of the shadow Cabinet for not asking the shadow Attorney-General to open the debate and requiring the presence of one of the dramatis personae to answer—the Attorney-General himself.
I begin with a direct question which I hope will he answered when the Minister replies or in response to the first oral question on Monday.
Under the byline of that careful, well-informed and trustworthy political correspondent, John Lewis, known and held in respect over the years by many of us, on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph on 27 July 1986 there appeared the words:Havers threat to call police to No. 10.The Attorney-General was compelled to warn Sir Robert Armstrong, the Cabinet Secretary, at the height of the Westland affair that he would have the police on the doorstep of No. 10 Downing street next morning unless he agreed to an immediate leaks inquiry. Is Mr. Lewis writing the truth, or is it without foundation? I believe it to be true. If so, what is the explanation of the senior Law Officer of the Crown threatening to bring the constabulary to No. 10?
On 14 July 1986, I asked the Attorney-General:Surely the usual practice is that Law Officers' letters are treated with extreme discretion and most gingerly by the Downing street machine. Why did the Solicitor-General's letter ever go near Mr. Ingham and the press office, unless there was a prime ministerial instruction that it was to be leaked?The answer was:I am quite certain that there was no such instruction." —[Official Report, 14 July 1986; Vol. 101, c. 675.]I believe that the Attorney-General was telling the truth in his own mind when he gave that answer. Does he still believe that to be true? At column 851, on 25 July, I had the lucky opportunity in an Adjournment debate to set out for 30 minutes my detailed concern about the Law Officer's letter. In reply, the Minister's answer was bland and anodyne. But in three months, no attempt has been made to answer my questions.
For more than 24 years as a Member of the House I have seen Ministers of Governments of both major parties go. Some of the resignation correspondence has been sad and pained as between old party colleagues, some has been curt, bordering on the acrimonious; but never, during a quarter of a century in the House, have I read of such correspondence as that between the Prime Minister and her departing Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The Daily Telegraph of 25 January 1986 printed a letter from the Prime Minister to the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, which ended:I hope that it will not he long before you return to high office to continue your Ministerial career.388 How could the Prime Minister say that, if the complete picture was of a Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who had deceived his senior civil servants, his Cabinet colleagues and his Prime Minister for 14 days? She said that because it was a negotiated correspondence. Had such a letter not been forthcoming, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) might have refused to carry the can and act as a prime ministerial scapegoat. He could negotiate. He could spill the prime ministerial beans. He held the ace, king, and queen of trumps.
I make no apology for quoting from Mr. Peter Hennessy's article in the New Statesman because I have some sympathy for the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks. It states:Pressure from Conservative Back-Benchers forced Leon Brittan to follow Heseltinc out of the Government, not the requirements of Ministerial responsibility. The need to preserve the position of the Prime Minister, and not constitutional doctrine led the Conservative majority on the Commons Defence Committee to 'clear' Thatcher.Simon Jenkins' article stated that passages had to be negotiated with Leon Brittan, lest he step out of line in the debate.
Parliament should not be content with being given a line. Hon. Members are entitled to the truth. If we are content simply to be spun a line, we are not doing our jobs properly.
I set out the narrative in columns 851 to 858 on 25 July. The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond. Yorks could show that before 6 January — before an unsuspecting Solicitor-General was prompted by No. 10 to write the letter—the Prime Minister had set down the guidelines for the strategy. Perhaps there was no need for consultation. Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell knew exactly what they had to do before the innocent Solicitor-General ever put pen to paper. If the civil servants were not carrying out the Prime Minister's orders, they should be punished. If she is not prepared to punish them, the Prime Minister should admit that they were carrying out her orders.
Sir Robert Armstrong's subsequent refusal to discipline any of the civil servants directly involved must be wholly unsatisfactory. The only reason for not disciplining them was that the Cabinet Secretary knew full well that it was not the more junior civil servants but the politicians that were guilty. Mr. Ingham refused, under orders, to give evidence to the Select Committee, and he is criticised for his central role in masterminding the leak of the Solicitor-General's letter. If he masterminded the leak of a Law Officer's letter, he should be sacked; he should not bask, as he is doing, in prime ministerial favour.
The Prime Minister has always claimed that her officials acted without her knowledge and that she did not know the full circumstances of how the leak occurred until nearly a fortnight after the event. Anyone reading the report of the Select Committee on Defence must regard that as a fairy tale. The raison d'etre of the letter was to leak it to discredit the former Secretary of State for Defence. The only reason for persuading the Solicitor-General to write the letter was to leak it.
Adam Raphael, quoting, a former Conservative Cabinet Minister, said:It is a perfectly simple story of straightforward dishonestyI do not know Mr. Raphael's source, but I give the House my word of honour that three Conservative Privy 389 Councillors—I shall not betray their names—who are political opponents but friends and colleagues of mine for more than 20 years, have separately said much the same thing.
When pressed, the Prime Minister blames the professional competence—"misunderstandings"—of civil servants. But paragraph 15 of Cmnd. 9841, the Government's response to the seventh report of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, states:The principle is clear: Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the policies and actions of their Departments.Pressed further, the Prime Minister authorises an inquiry, but it is an inquiry into that which she herself has set up.
Simon Jenkins states that the Prime Minister is protected by adopting the doctrine of proportionality—that whatever blame might attach to her for the leak, a prime ministerial resignation would be out of proportion. But the truth is the truth is the truth and lies are lies are lies. If the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Defence laid down their political careers, why is it disproportionate that the Prime Minister should lay down hers?
Paragraph 198 shows that on 23 January I asked:When did the Prime Minister's press office first tell her what it had done?The Prime Minister replied:I have said that I was not consulted at the time.She said that she had given a full account. That is not true. At column 856 on Friday 25 July the narrative of how the Prime Minister organised the Law Officer's letter is spelt out. There was no full account. To say that the Prime Minister did not take part in the leak is a sustained, brazen deception. It is straightforward dishonesty. The House of Commons cannot continue to operate on that basis. Truthfulness in the House is the fulcrum of our system. The Prime Minister is a sustained, brazen deceiver now hiding behind cynical performances.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot say that and that he must withdraw that remark about the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he cannot say that. He must either withdraw his remarks or I must invoke the powers invested in me and my responsibilities to the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is a very experienced parliamentarian, will withdraw those remarks.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not wish to take up my colleagues' time. Let us carry the matter no further. I stick to my remarks and I know what you must do, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
In those circumstances, I have no alternative but to exercise the powers vested in me under Standing Order No. 24 and order the hon. Gentleman to withdraw from the House for the remainder of this sitting.
§ The hon. Member, having used a grossly disorderly expression, was ordered by MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER to withdraw the same, but he declined to comply with that direction, whereupon MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Standing Order No. 24 (Disorderly conduct), ordered him to withdraw immediately from the House during the remainder of this day's Sitting, and he withdrew accordingly390
§ 8.6 pm
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
The speeches by the Opposition remind me of a psychic research society desperately tramping round some old haunted house looking for a ghost. The only ghost that could be found was found by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). He is perfectly correct to state that the problem which started this whole sorry affair some 17 or 18 months ago is still with us. The House knows of my interest in the affairs of Westland plc. It is the largest employer in Weston-super-Mare and it has a crucial role to play in the economy of that area.
Only 30 to 40 per cent. of the modern helicopter is constructed in Yeovil and Weston-super-Mare. The rest of the machine, by value, is built in various parts of the west country and in the industrial centres of Britain. When we previously debated this matter, Westland plc was financially unsound. The Government were not clear as to whether they would assist it. Now, Westland plc is a busy, financially prosperous company. This morning on the wireless, the vice-chairman of Westland plc said that the company was profitable.
I do not wish any of my remarks to be interpreted as casting any aspersions on that aspect of the affair. In the helicopter division, there will not be enough work to maintain the present work force unless orders are received to sustain those factories in 1988–89. The anomaly, as the hon. Member for Yeovil said, is that, having laid off many men from the west country, the company will have to reemploy them, if it can get them, so that the EHI01 programme, on which the Royal Navy is so rightly pushing ahead, can proceed.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been kind enough to see me and talk about the matter, and I very much appreciate that. This afternoon, he used friendly words, but took no action. He shelters behind studies. When I was at the Ministry of Defence and asked whether it was morning or afternoon, I was told, "Minister, we'll have to do a study on that." That is a wonderful defence against making a decision. Officials go off and study the matter, and find out what the senior officer wants. That research is then translated down the line into a complicated answer saying just what the senior officer wishes.
After Exercise Lionheart, AST 404 was torn up as if the Army had suddenly discovered that in modern warfare, moving around in large helicopters was a good way of putting troops on the ground. The Americans learnt that in Vietnam and some of us have been advocating it for years. Yet "the experts" are doing a study that has already lasted some months. It will probably overrun, and its conclusions may not support the view held by many of us, that the Army is nowhere near well enough equipped with helicopters. The Royal Navy has led the way, but I shall say something later about the division of responsibilities between the services.
What is the reason for the lack of helicopters? There is unquestionably prejudice. Moreover, those trained in armoured vehicles often believe that that is the only way to fight. The military has displayed a poor flexibility of approach. Thus, the politicians must intervene, because there is no other way of resolving the issue. I remind the House that when Winston Churchill was first First Lord of the Admiralty he invented the tank. During the last war many people went to war on horses and found that after 391 having the machine gun for nearly 50 years, it was not a frightfully good way of tackling the problems of modern warfare. We are making the same sort of mistake.
I come to the ownership of helicopters. I cannot believe that anybody who has operated helicopters thinks that such a division of responsibility is good. In the Falklands, a company commander needing helicopter support had to apply for it by 5 o'clock the day before. From my amateur knowledge of warfare, I would say that that was an impossible proposition. Indeed, it proved impossible to provide the necessary service.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will probably say that it is all very well for me to say such things, but that what we need to know is where the resources are to come from. I suggest that he should look at the armoured personnel carrier programme that he has just instituted at a cost of nearly £500 million, and at his research budgets. From my experience at the Ministry of Defence I know that where there's a will there's a way. But I share my right hon. Friend's view that it is not the Ministry's job to support British industry. British industry looks to it as its customer, and Westland has constantly emphasised that it will do whatever the Government want it to do. It is not for that company to dictate to the Ministry of Defence.
If the Government believe that the British helicopter industry should be abandoned — I am sorry that there has been no statement to the contrary—the Department of Trade and Industry should dig into its relatively deep pocket and use some of its aid money to get over this temporary aberration. It uses large sums of money for launch aid in aviation projects, assists the car industry, and so on. But the sums that we are talking about are relatively small and would enhance British forces. The challenge would then be for the Ministry of Defence to find the men and the money to run these machines. However, that should not be difficult.
I very much support the Select Committee's recommendation of an aerospace board. In many areas there is conflict between the Ministry of Defence as a purchasing agent and the Department of Trade and Industry as a sponsoring Department, and that leads to confusion within the Government. The Westland affair is a particularly blatant example of that.
I am sorry to tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that in the absence of firm assurances that the philosophy in the Ministry of Defence and in the Department of Trade and Industry has changed, I cannot support the Government tonight, for two reasons. First, there is a serious deficiency in the defence equipment provided to our Army. That is my prime reason for not joining my hon. Friends in the Lobby tonight. Secondly, my conscience would not allow me to let a policy—or lack of policy — proceed that would lead to the laying off of many highly skilled people in an important part of the world, embracing not only my constituency but the west country as a whole. That would go very much against the grain.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
It is surprising that so far the Opposition have not said a word about the problems of the helicopter industry or what they propose to do about it. It is even more surprising, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) said, that the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) who 392 opened for the Opposition, should say hardly a word about Westland, but should address his remarks almost entirely to the fourth report.
It will come as no surprise when I say that those of my constituents who work at Westland have no interest in that fourth report. They work hard at Westland and are doing a good job. With the help and support now given by Sikorsky, they will do even more in the years ahead. As my hon. Friend the Member for Western-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) said, we all knew about the two-year gap. It still exists, and the Government should address themselves to the question of how best to fill it through orders and overall support. In that way Westland could retain its skills and capacity, which will be needed in full measure one the EH101 goes into production. Moreover, what could be more ludicrous than the possibility of thousands of skilled men going off to the four corners of the world where their skills are in demand and then to have to cobble them together again in 1990–91 for production of the EH101? We should not tolerate such a ludicrous state of affairs.
Some hon. Members have looked at the larger picture and called for orders on a big scale. I do not disagree one iota with that. Used with skill, the helicopter massively increases mobility and provides unrivalled hitting power right across the battlefield. We lag behind in making imaginative use of that flexibility. We do not use helicopters properly, and others have led the way instead. The Germans, Americans and even the Russians have done it, yet we lag behind. That is sad, because this Government took the imaginative step of turning the 5th Infantry Brigade into the 5th Airborne Brigade. That was a sensible move and should have been followed by providing more modern helicopters for that brigade and for the other air mobile brigades.
We need decisions, but what more can we do to help? In March I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence what helicopters were in use with the Queen's Flight and when they went into service. I was told that there were two Wessex helicopters in service with the Queen's Flight and that they had entered service in June and July 1969. Given the age of those helicopters, there must be a strong case for the Government placing an immediate order for two new helicopters for the Queen's Flight. That would have a dramatic effect on the company. First, it would give it an order worth about £5.5 million involving some 100,000 man hours of work. That is not to be sneezed at in the present climate. Secondly, and more important, the Wessex could be replaced by Sea Kings or Black Hawks, provided that the latter were built in this country, and that would be a clear sign to the world that our Government have complete confidence in Westland and are determined to help in any way possible. What better advertisement could there be for such excellent British products?
As a result of such a decision, confidence would increase and orders would flow in from abroad. Earlier, the Secretary of State said that we were in the business of trying to build up confidence and of helping the export market. Nothing could do more to help Westland than if it received an order to build and fit out two Sea Kings or Black Hawks for the Queen's Flight. I beg my right hon. Friend to consider this possibility as a matter of urgency.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I hope that the' employment prospects for those employed at Westland in Yeovil will be secure. I noted, in particular, the remarks made by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), and I should stress that anything that undermined that security of employment would be of the utmost concern to Labour Members.
I want to concentrate on the fourth report of the Defence Committee on the Government's decision-making. Emerging from it is a picture of deceit and dishonesty at the very highest level of this Administration. Paragraph 36 of the Government's response quotes the Prime Minister as saying:Officials in the Department of Trade and Industry approached officials in my office who made it clear that it was not intended to disclose the Solicitor General's letter from 10 Downing Street; but, being told that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had authorised the disclosure, they accepted"—that is, No. 10—that the Department of Trade and Industry should make it and they accepted the means by which it was proposed that the disclosure should be made.That seems very bland, and if one compares that account with what appeared in The Observer last Sunday, one gets another picture altogether. Perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us whether the report by Adam Raphael is accurate. He wrote that Bernard Ingham, the Prime Minister's press secretary, put considerable pressure—and used certain words that would not be allowed by the Chair—on Miss Colette Bowe to ensure that the leak took place. Clearly there is a discrepancy between the Government's response and the feeling in the media about what occurred on that fateful day.
It is to the credit of Miss Bowe that she had such reluctance to do what she knew must have been wrong. Paragraph 174 of the Defence Committee's report speaks of the reluctance that Miss Bowe undoubtedly felt. She had doubts about the propriety of what was being done. I can respect the doubts and reluctance that she had at the time to leak extracts from the Solicitor-General's letter. It is also understandable that in all the circumstances Miss Bowe later sought immunity from prosecution, and that immunity was granted by the Attorney-General.
Apart from all the other shameful conduct in this whole wretched business, the Government also bear responsibility for placing a public servant such as Miss Colette Bowe in such an invidious position. No apology has been made to her about the position in which she was place by being forced to leak the letter. It is clear that Mr. Bernard Ingham must also bear responsibility for the excessive pressure that he exerted on her.
As the Defence Committee report makes clear, it may well be that other pressure was put upon her by her seniors in the Department of Trade and Industry, but Mr. Ingham's role does not come out very well. He seems to have a great deal of power. One wonders to whom he is really responsible. He is obviously responsible to the Prime Minister, but he has more power and authority than perhaps any other Prime Minister's press secretary has ever had. We should compare the power of Mr. Ingham with that of any hon. Member of this House—
§ Mr. Winnick
Indeed. That is a good comparison. He probably does have more power than a member of the Cabinet. Is that a healthy position in a parliamentary democracy?
The Secretary of State for Defence smiled when I made that point, but he no doubt knows the position far better than I do, and privately would probably confirm what I have just said
Inevitably, there will be a comparison between what happened in this case and what happened to Miss Sarah Tisdall, who responded to her conscience and leaked a certain document. I was one of the four Labour Members who visited her in prison. I continue to have a great respect for her. One of her tormentors was the then Secretary of State for Defence, who in the Westland affair did not hesitate to leak and so on to his advantage, quite regardless of the view of the rest of the Cabinet.
The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Britian), the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, today made some remarks with which I entirely agree. He emphasised the need for collective Cabinet responsibility. We would all agree with that. I am not here as the apologist for the then Secretary of State for Defence. Undoubtedly the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) acted in a way that could not possibly be justified. If the Cabinet — I have no reason to believe otherwise — made a decision and the right hon. Gentleman refused to accept it and conspired to undermine that decision, that is extremely serious. I would not wish to minimise it for a moment.
If the Prime Minister was of the view that the right hon. Gentleman was not acting in a proper way, it was up to her to act accordingly. She should have warned him, and had he been unwilling to accept the warning, she should have sacked him. But she did not do so. Was the Prime Minister reluctant to sack the right hon. Gentleman because she feared that he would be far more of a nuisance outside the Cabinet than inside, or was he being rewarded for his excellent work in trying to discredit the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament? Those are interesting points which only the Prime Minister can answer.
Instead of acting as a Prime Minister should—and as previous Prime Ministers undoubtedly would have acted —by sacking the right hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Lady did something quite different. She got the Solicitor-General to write a letter. Here I come to the crux of the matter. When Conservative Members say that the Prime Minister was innocent of the leaking, certain questions are bound to arise. Would her officials at No. 10 have acted as they did unless they knew that she would not disapprove of what they intended to do? Would they have acted as they did had they believed that they would get into serious disciplinary trouble? The officials at No. 10 acted as they did because they knew that the Prime Minister wanted them to act in that way. It is difficult to believe any other version of the facts.
The Defence Committee's report rightly refers to the disreputable way in which the leak occurred. Perhaps one can express some surprise at the fact that the Solicitor-General did not resign. That is entirely a matter for him; I have not seen him in the Chamber so far.
The Prime Minister has become far too powerful. She has a style which many peopole find offensive. She has a domineering style and is intolerant of any critics, both inside her party and in the Cabinet. She now has a Cabinet composed of members who are too scared to speak out, 395 and we all know what happened to the Leader of the House when he made certain remarks. Mr. Bernard Ingham let it be known to the press lobby that the right hon. Gentleman was a semi-detached member of the Cabinet. That is the sort of way in which certain members of the Cabinet are discredited.
Compared with the Cabinet in 1979, we now have one that is dominated by the Prime Minister, and very few members are willing to stand up to her. That is unfortunate. The country is sick and tired of a Prime Minister whose style of leadership is so dominating, and it is sick and tired of this Government.
The Westland affair has demonstrated once again how this Government conduct their affairs. It is a wretched, shameful business, and any self-respecting member of the Cabinet would have resigned rather than stay in the Prime Minister's Government.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I shall confine myself to one aspect of the debate—paragraphs 41 to 44 of the Government's response— not least because the Trade and Industry Select Committee of which I am a member has not yet reported on its own examination of certain aspects of the Westland affair.
The first important fact of which I wish to remind the House is that the quotation from the Procedure Committee report, which appears at the bottom of paragraph 42 in the Government's response, is not from a paragraph of that report which the House of Commons has accepted. One would not guess that from reading the reference to it, but it is very important.
The report from that Select Committee was debated by the House on 19 and 20 February 1979 on a motion to adjourn, not on a motion to accept or to approve. The distinction is real, because when it came to setting up the departmental Select Committees, the House gave specific approval to specific recommendations by the Procedure Committee to which this refers. The content of the quotation which the Government are praying in aid has never been accepted or approved by the House. It is important to place that on the record.
This is a matter of importance because it must not be said after tonight's Division that the House has approved the Government's response to certain reports by the Defence Committee. It will have done no such thing. This is a motion to adjourn, and that must never be confused with the House giving its assent to the propositions contained in the document concerned.
Paragraph 41 contains a wholly untrue statement of fact. It states:Select Committees exercise their formal powers to inquire into the policies and actions of Departments by virtue of the accountability of Ministers to Parliament.It is not by virtue of that at all. It is by virtue of the terms of the motion passed by the House of Commons to set them up.
Moneylenders in general are not accountable to the House of Commons, but when a Select Committee was set up to inquire into the practice of moneylending the terms of the motion setting it up made moneylenders accountable to the House. When a moneylender refused to answer questions by the Select Committee he was brought to the Bar of the House, reprimanded for his misconduct and ordered to answer, not such questions as 396 the House might think fit, but such questions as the Select Committee thought fit to put to him. That is an important precedent that we do well to bear in mind.
There are three reasons why a civil servant may be present before a Select Committee. I make particular reference to the departmental Select Committees, but this applies to others. The reason is that, first, a Minister appearing before that Select Committee may want civil servants to supply him ad hoc with advice or information so that he can answer the Select Committee. That is a reputable reason.
The second reason is that when a Select Committee has notified a Department of the spectrum of questions which it wishes to put to the Department, the Department will decide which witnesses to send, whether Ministers or civil servants. The Department sends a witness with a competent knowledge of the facts. If the Department happens to choose a civil servant, the civil servant is just as answerable as a Minister. That I do aver. It is very important.
The third reason why a civil servant may be present before a Select Committee is that the Select Committee has specifically requested or, in extremis, ordered that he should be there. There can be a good reason for that— that first-hand evidence is always preferable to secondhand evidence. If that which is being inquired into is not advice given by a civil servant to a Minister, it is proper for a civil servant to refuse to say what advice he has given or for the Minister to refuse to reveal what advice he has been given. However, if the inquiry is into the action of a civil servant, first-hand evidence is in many cases preferable, not least if no Minister knows first-hand what action the civil servant took in the particular circumstances being investigated.
The doctrine that only the Minister is answerable is unacceptable because the Minister is only guessing. He is not giving evidence from his own knowledge. That is crucial when the purpose of the Select Committee is to inquire into events and facts. Paragraph 41 of the Government's response is wholly inaccurate and must not be allowed to stand.
I have commented on the defect in the quotation. It is an opinion taken out of context from a Select Committee report which no Government of the day, and no Government since, has put to the House for its approval. That is possibly wise.
The end of paragraph 44 contains a triumphant announcement. It states:Accordingly the Government proposes to make it clear to civil servants giving evidence to Select Committees that they should not answer questions which are or appear to be directed to the conduct of themselves or of other named civil servants.If the word "conduct" is intended to mean advice that they gave to their Minister, that is proper and does not need to be said because there is nothing new in it. But if "conduct" means the actions of a civil servant in a series of events into which an inquiry is being held and which action is at the nub of the inquiry, that cannot be accepted.
If "conduct" means "actions", of course the Select Committee must be able to inquire at first hand into those events from the only person who knows first hand exactly what happened. If that civil servant is not the only person who knows, it is still advisable for that civil servant to have the opportunity to state to the Committee whether the 397 version of events given by another witness is correct. Otherwise the civil servant cannot protect himself against a garnished version, given, for instance, by a Minister.
Just as it can be unjust for a civil servant to be pressed on matters which he cannot properly reveal to the Committee, so there is nothing improper in a civil servant revealing to a Committee his own actions. If those actions were improper, it is for the civil servant's Minister, not the Committee, to punish him formally. It is most certainly correct for the Committee to enforce its authority against civil servants if only they have first-hand knowledge of the events into which the inquiry is being held. Never is that more true than when a Minister specifically, on the Floor of the House, invites a Select Committee to look into a given series of events.
That is the contribution that I want to make tonight.
§ Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)
I wish to focus on one issue. There has been speculation—with justification—whether the Prime Minister knew about the leaking of the Solicitor-General's letter. I shall concentrate on one of the known facts. What was known and accepted by the Select Committee and by the Armstrong inquiry was that Department of Trade arid Industry officials did leak the Solicitor-General's letter — and leaked it with the knowledge of officials at 10 Downing street. Indeed, the Armstrong inquiry — this was repeated by the Select Committee on Defence— found that the officials from 10 Downing street accepted that the Department of Trade and Industry would leak the Solicitor-General's letter.
I want the Leader of the House to answer two specific points surrounding that. Surely it was the duty of the officials, especially in circumstances where they knew that the Department of Trade and Industry was going to leak the letter, not to be indifferent to that and, still less, in the words of Armstrong, to "accept" that it was being leaked. Surely their clear duty was strenuously to object to it being leaked. That is not merely an abstract or theoretical duty.
If, during the telephone conversation and the meetings between the Department of Trade and Industry and officials from No. 10, those officials had said that the letter must not be leaked and that it would be grossly improper to leak the letter in that way, the practical consequence would be that the letter would never have been leaked. Therefore, they had a serious duty to object to the leak. I would like the Leader of the House to say whether he agrees that they had such a duty. If they were under such a duty, why does the doctrine of ministerial responsibility not mean that the Prime Minister must be responsible for the breach of duty of her officials? Why has that doctrine been junked so unceremoniously by a Prime Minister who is so acutely involved in it? I would like the Leader of the House to say whether he believes that the doctrine applied in those circumstances and that the duty of the officials existed.
There is an area of fact in this case which comes so close to the line between speculation and certainty that we should not leave a discussion of the Select Committee report without mentioning it. The inquiry that was set up under Sir Robert Armstrong was crucial to the Prime Minister. It was crucial that when the inquiry was established she had no knowledge of involvement in the leak of the Department of Trade and Industry or No. 10 398 officials. It was crucial because the way in which the inquiry was being presented to us—I remember it being announced in the House—was that she, like us, was an innocent searcher after the truth surrounding the leaked letter. The Prime Minister's statement that she had no knowledge of the connivance of the Department of Trade and Industry or No. 10 officials prior to the inquiry being established is vital.
Our credulity is stretched to breaking point when we consider the events of 7 January. On that day, as the Select Committee said, and the Prime Minister has conceded, there was a meeting at Downing street about the Westland affair between the Prime Minister and members of her office. That was the morning after the leak of the letter. We can cast our minds back to the headlines in the newspapers on that day. They were all about the leaking of the letter. We well remember the headline in The Sun about the then Secretary of State for Defence. Is it seriously being suggested that during that meeting on 7 January none of those officials, even though they knew what had happened to the leaked letter, sought to mention the source of the leak? The Select Committee thought that that was difficult to understand. However, it is even more difficult to understand why the Prime Minister did not even ask whether they knew. We are expected to believe that perhaps she was too timid or lacking in curiosity to ask.
This afternoon we heard from the Secretary of State for Defence a speech that he was perfectly entitled to make. It was about the importance of the helicopter industry, the technical details of the industry and important defence implications. However, he was not entitled to ignore completely the other issue in this matter—the integrity of the Government and of the Prime Minister. Until we get an answer to some of the serious and unanswered questions that have been raised this evening, the integrity of the Government will remain in doubt.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)
As a member of the Select Committee on Defence, I welcome the Government's response to our third report. I wish that I could say the same about the Government's response to our fourth report.
During the short time available I want to concentrate on paragraph 44 of that report. The matter is urgent, because I do not believe that any hon. Member tonight has mentioned a fact which greatly concerns me, and I have heard all the speeches but two. I am advised that permanent secretaries have already advised all civil servants who are likely to appear before Select Committees about paragraph 44. That being the case, it must be assumed that civil servants who are about to come before a Select Committee or are in the process of coming before a Committee will take that paragraph as their guideline.
Underlying the Government's response is an extension of the "going over the top" syndrome that we have seen running through the Westland affair. I do not understand why the Government felt that they had to respond in the terms that they did in paragraph 44. Indeed, the idea that one can define how civil servants should respond to Select Committees seems to be fraught with danger. There are some conventions and, as one of my hon. Friends said, there are some precedents built up over the years, which 399 tend to allow the House and the public to get a reasonable view of what is going on. However, to define and confine what civil servants may say to hon. Members is dangerous.
Underlying paragraph 44 appears to be the suggestion that there is some form of total ministerial responsibility for all activities of Departments. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) rightly touched on the way in which that does not stand up with the complexity of government, the degree of decentralisation and, in the Ministry of Defence, on matters of defence procurement, where there are whole areas in which civil servants have to act under their own responsibility and must, necessarily, be responsive to questioning from hon. Members and Select Committees.
In paragraph 44 the Government seem to be implying that Ministers can speak on all issues. That is not only a fallacy, hut does not address itself to the genuine problem of continuity. I would argue that greater exposure of civil servants to examination by hon. Members increases public confidence in the administration of this country. The vast majority of civil servants who appear before us are people of ability and obvious integrity. That comes through in many of our proceedings. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) said, we are naturally vigilant to see whether there is evidence of error or anything that might in any way be regarded as fradulent. We are also conscious of creating a climate of confidence where we see work carried out faithfully and with ability.
One problem that comes out in the third and fourth report is the Government's assumption that in the present situation. where Ministers move around, there is some way by which we can overcome the difficulty of continuity. I want to highlight the relationship between the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence. I served in the old Department of Trade and Industry for two and a half years and was fully conscious of the extreme concern over the problem of liaison between 1979 and 1981. It has to be said that the Westland saga has been a classic illustration of a major rift between those two Departments.
When we look to the assurances for the future and recall some of the evidence given to us in Committee, I must remind the House of the evidence given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont)— I have given him notice of my intention to name him — who was then the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. At that time he properly argued that the fact that he had been in both the Department of Industry and Ministry of Defence meant that he understood both aspects of the debate and that liaison was never at a better level. That was reassuring as far as it went, but now he is a Minister in the Treasury, so his argument was shown in all its weakness.
In reality, continuity in Government Departments is provided by civil servants. Over recent years, Select Committees have increased in strength. Partly to overcome that lack of continuity with Ministers, many Select Committees have begun to establish a knowledge and understanding of particular civil servants and the way the system works. Greater continuity and stability within the Civil Service would also help in some areas. The ministerial problem is a genuine one.
A further aspect of this recent development should concern the House. I remind the House that this Government, through a motion which the House carried, 400 gave the Defence Select Committee the substantial responsibility, on behalf of the whole House, of carrying out this inquiry. The Select Committee was perfectly willing and, I hope, has shown itself able to discharge that duty. None of us could have envisaged a recommendation at the end of the report which clearly said that civil servants, in this case Sir Robert Armstrong, could not be asked on another occasion to do what was done on this occasion.
The Government put forward an argument of expediency in referring the matter to a Select Committee, but now they seek to renege on the implicit deal, which I and, I suspect, others took to be part of the understanding, that this sort of activity was likely to be a natural extension of the work of Select Committees if we were faced with these problems. The Government may say that they hope they will not have this particular drama again and that lessons have been learnt within the Government. That may be so, but the House is entitled to assume that in giving responsibility to Select Committees the Government a re prepared to live with the implications of that and not seek to move the goal posts later.
As a member of the old Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries, I recall vividly the great argument about access to persons and papers with regard to Sir Charles Villiers and the British Steel Corporation's corporate plans and long-term planning. As a member of the Opposition, I felt able to go along with the majority view, recognising that Labour Members were prepared to join forces to do what we thought was right for Parliament. That was an important step in the development of increased powers for Select Committees and I believe that these inquiries will be seen as a further stepping stone along that way. I hope that tonight the Government will say that they are not irrevocably seeking to turn back the clock, because that would be to their loss and a loss to the House and the country.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
To the general public our proceedings will have seemed arcane, esoteric, far removed from the problems of the Westland helicopter company and far too little preoccupied with the problems associated with our country's defence and the important role which the helicopter plays in both the land-air battle and maritime warfare. Perhaps it was the fault of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), who was at his most engaging, in starting us off on a great whodunnit which will probably continue until 10 o'clock.
The third report of the Defence Select Committee makes some important observations on helicopter strategy. The absence of a helicopter strategy has undoubtedly led considerably to the commercial problems of the Westland company and the subsequent political furore of which we are all too well aware.
I am lucky in that I serve as a Committee chairman and rapporteur in the Western European Union. As such, for the last few weeks I have been visiting European capitals and talking to defence staffs and companies, including Agusta, Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm, Aerospatiale and Westland. Whereas my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was expatiating at length on the importance of a European helicopter strategy when events were unfolding in December 1985 and January 1986, we 401 have heard remarkably little about it tonight. Nevertheless, it remains as important for the future of the industry now as it was then.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) was absolutely right in saying that the board of Westland was justified in its commercial decisions and that the Government's policy was sound. I said so at the time, and such evidence as I gave the Select Committee was to similar effect. However, I refer the House to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who said, with regard to the light support helicopter for our armed forces, that there was no absolute cut-off date for the replacement of the Wessex and Puma aircraft currently in service with the RAF. I am sure that this was a sound technical observation, but for the people at Westland, whose jobs are at risk, in that the work on EH101 will not start for some time yet, it is a statement of considerable significance.
My right hon. Friend went on to say that he wished the company well with its full range of products—Sea King, Lynx, the EH101 and, interestingly, the Black Hawk. Black Hawk has not yet been built by Westland. It is undergoing flight trials with the RTM322 engine, which we all believe is critical to the helicopter's future. It is noteworthy that nobody mentioned the important RTM322 Franco-British engine programme, which will be important for Leavesden, Pau and other places associated with it, and, perhaps, for the future of the EH101, if the RTM322 is specified, rather than the GE700 engine which will power the prototypes. There could be merit in a mix of aeroplanes for the light support helicopter requirement. In battlefield conditions a number of helicopters of different sizes could be needed to meet the tactical situation.
It will be difficult for Westland to launch the Black Hawk with the RTM322 on the basis of a small order of aircraft for the RAF; for example, for a Wessex replacement alone. But if the Wessex and Puma were both replaced by the Black Hawk, then when the EH101 in its transport variant becomes available in the early 1990s, which is earlier than the naval variant, it could be considered whether that aeroplane was necessary also. It has a 28 troop lift capability, which is in line with Army thinking, or so one is led to believe. If there is a need to top up the RAF's medium-lift capability, extra Chinooks could be ordered as and when required.
A flexible and adaptable policy is available to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State if he has the courage to take it, and if the Treasury allows him to do so. The feasibility study for the NH90 will land on my right hon. Friend's desk in two or three weeks' time. It is a five-nation programme with two roles. The first is the naval role, in which we are not participating, for the new NATO frigate for the 1990s. The second is a light support helicopter role. It would not be the end of the world if we withdrew, hut, if we do not withdraw, we should try to shift the programme to the right—we should try to have it come into service later rather than sooner, so that we can fill the gap in capacity at Westland with the Black Hawk now. The trouble is that the Black Hawk and the Super Puma are similar in dimensions and capability to the type of aeroplane which the NH90 might become.
402 I hope that my right hon. Friend has the courage of his convictions and persuades the Treasury to spend the money that Westland has long needed. It is under good management and deserves the Government's support.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
This has been a serious and wide-ranging debate, as the subject matter undoubtedly deserves.
It is not altogether surprising that those who have concentrated on the Select Committee's third report have tended to come from the Conservative Benches. That is not because there is disagreement between the two sides of the House about the importance of the future of the helicopter industry and of the livelihood of those who work in it. Rather it is that, in spite of its complexities and importance, it is, in the context of today's debate, a far less controversial matter between the two sides of the House than the rocks and shoals in the fourth report.
It was therefore no surprise to me that the Secretary of State for Defence spent 25 minutes on the third report and, on the fourth, contented himself by repeating the bromide of paragraph 28 of the Government's response. That said:Full accounts of the matters with which the Fourth Report is concerned have already been given by Ministers in statements in Parliament, speeches in debates and Answers to Parliamentary Questions, and by the Head of the Home Civil Service in his evidence to the Committee. The Government stands by those accounts, sees no reason to qualify or add to them, and no point in repeating yet again the sequence of events and decisions covered by the report.Life would be very simple if the House were prepared to accept such bland statements which, if the Government had their way, would close down the debate on the important issues that are raised in the report.
It is no surprise that the Opposition should for the most part have concentrated on the fourth report and the important constitutional issues raised in it. I have heard all but one of the speeches that have been made, and that one was reported to me. Two features have been quite outstanding. The first is that nobody has challenged the contents of the fourth report. Nobody has challenged one sentence of it, yet it is one of the most dramatic and controversial reports ever to have come out of a Select Committee. That is quite remarkable.
The second feature, which has united the House, is the sense of shock at — I can put it no lower — and of rejection of, paragraphs 41 to 44 of the Government's response to the Select Committee's third and fourth reports, especially the fourth. The rejection is extremely important.
I was grateful to the right hon. Members for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) and for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), with their special Select Committee experience, for saying so strongly how unacceptable the new restrictions on Select Committees would be.
I can assure them that, as far as we in the Opposition are concerned, if the motion is carried, in no sense will it be interpreted by us to mean any approval for paragraphs 41 to 44 of the Government's response.
What needs stressing at the start is that the Select Committee's controversial fourth report is unanimous. Since the majority of the Committee's members, as is customary, are drawn from the majority party, there can be no question of any party bias in what it had to say. 403 Moreover, as the Committee records in the opening paragraph of its report, its inquiry was specifically endorsed when, at the end of the debate on 15 January 1986, the House accepted a Government amendment to the Opposition motion containing these words:That this House … further recognises the competence of departmental Select Committees of the House of Commons to consider the issues raised by these developments." —[Official Report, 15 January 1986; Vol. 89, c. 1174.]The Select Committee properly sought to examine the history of the crisis that befell Westland from 1984 onwards, and central to this debate, the process of Government decision making and the parts played in it by the then Secretary of State for Defence, the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Law Officers, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary and the senior officials at No. 10 and the Department of Trade and Industry who were directly involved.
The report of the Select Committee on Defence raises questions of the utmost importance—the standard of conduct of Government and Ministers, the use and misuse of civil servants and the accountability of Ministers and officials to the House of Commons. At the centre of this complex story and at the peak moment in the struggle between the then Secretary of State for Defence and the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, was, as others have already stressed, the deliberate leak of the Solicitor-General's letter, designed to discredit the Secretary of State for Defence, and the subsequent inquiry into that leak by Sir Robert Armstrong, the Cabinet Secretary.
Let there be no mistake or misunderstanding that the leak was a flagrant breach of the Official Secrets Act and of the rules and practices that have long established a special confidentiality for Law Officers' advice, rules reaffirmed as recently as 11 August 1983 and circulated to all Departments. The leak raised at once the central question of who was responsible and, on the insistence of the Law Officers, led to the setting up of an official inquiry undertaken by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robert Armstrong. As the House knows, the leak occurred on 6 January and Sir Robert completed his report on 22 January.
In exploring those important matters, the Select Committee on Defence laboured under several handicaps, to which it drew attention. As the Committee put it,We sought oral evidence from three officials of the Department of Trade and Industry: Mr. John Michell, Under Secretary, Air Division; Mr. John Mogg, Private Secretary to the Secretary of State; and Miss Colette Bowe, Director of Information.The Committee's request was turned down. It also sought oral evidence from Mr. Bernard Ingham, Chief Press Secretary to the Prime Minister and from Mr. Charles Powell, a private secretary to the Prime Minister. That request was also refused the Select Committee. Furthermore, Sir Robert Armstrong, who appeared before the Committee, was not prepared to name any official involved or to give details of what officials had told him during the inquiry. The former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry refused again and again to answer important questions put to him by the Select Committee.
Nevertheless, in spite of those grave handicaps, the Select Committee's report is a remarkably thorough record, analysis and critique of what took place. In particular, its report brings out again and again the central 404 and decisive role played by the Prime Minister herself and No. 10 in the whole affair. It is upon her role and that of the officials that I intend to concentrate.
As other hon. Members have pointed out, the Prime Minister instigated the Solicitor-General's lettter in the first place. On 27 January, she told the House:I asked that a message be sent to my right hon. and learned Friend the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, as the sponsoring Minister for Westland, to suggest that he should ask the Solicitor-General to consider the Defence Secretary's letter and give his opinion on whether it was accurate, and consistent with my own letter to Sir John Cuckney."—[Official Report, 27 January 1986; Vol. 10, c. 652.]Many people think that that in itself was an extraordinary proceeding. The obvious course was for the right hon. Lady to call in the Secretary of State for Defence and, if the letter had contained material inaccuracies, to instruct him either to make a further and corrective statement or to resign.
However, the right hon. Lady preferred a different and more devious route. Having got the Solicitor-General to write a letter, it was the Prime Minister's self-confessed wish that its contents should be made known, and without delay. On 23 January, she told the House:it was especially important in this situation for statements made on behalf of the Government on which commercial judgments might be based, to be accurate and in no way misleading.That being so, it was a matter of duty that it should be made known publicly that there were thought to be material inaccuracies which needed to be corrected" —[Official Report, 23 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 449.]in the letter of the then Secretary of State for Defence.
When speaking in the House four days later on 27 January and dealing with the approaches made by the DTI to her office about authority for the leak, the right hon. Lady said that her office was accordingly approached. It did not seek her agreement. It considered that she should agree with the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that the fact that the then Defence Secretary's letter of 3 January was thought by the Solicitor-General to contain material inaccuracies which needed to be corrected should become public knowledge as scion as possible and before Sir John Cuckney's press conference.
Also on 27 January, the right hon. Lady said that the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was, in her judgment, right in thinking that it was important that the possible existence of material inaccuracies in the letter of 3 January by the then Secretary of State for Defence should become a matter of public knowledge.
On the same day, she said:I told the House on 23 January—it was accepted—that the Department of Trade and Industry should disclose the fact that the then Defence Secretary's letter of 3 January was thought by the Solicitor-General to contain material inaccuracies which needed to be corrected, and that, in view of the urgency of the matter, the disclosure should be made in that way it was."—[Official Report, 27 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 656.]Nothing could be clearer. The Prime Minister agreed with the leak. She agreed not only with the leak but with the timing of it. It all had to be before Sir John Cuckney's press conference. She accepted that the disclosureshould be made in the way it was".I find that shocking. I find her conduct demeans both I he Prime Minister herself and the great office she holds. A highly selective leak was duly made by the DTI, but the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made it absolutely plain to the Select Committee, and repeated 405 today, that the leak would only be authorised by him subject to the agreement of No. 10. Paragraph 152 of the Select Committee's report states:Mr. Brittan was emphatic about the need for the Prime Minister's office to approve the disclosure: 'I would particularly stress, it all had to be subject to the agreement of No. 10.'Nothing could be clearer. Mr. Mogg of the DTI talked to Mr. Powell at No. 10, Miss Colette Bowe of the DTI press office and Mr. Bernard Ingham, chief press secretary at No. 10. Far from there being any veto from No. 10, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said, on this utterly improper and outrageous course of action, it was during the conversation between the two press officers that the method of disclosure was agreed.
Sir Robert Armstrong told the Select Committee:The Prime Minister's office was consulted about the method of disclosure; they did not give instructions, but they agreed that the only practicable way of getting the fact that the Solicitor-General had written and the gist of what he had said in this letter into the public domain within the time constraint of the 4.00 pm deadline was the method that was eventually adopted. The evidence given to my inquiry does not suggest that any other method of disclosure was seriously considered, given the time constraint".As for No. 10's press office not giving instructions, it is clear that Miss Bowe of the Department of Trade and Industry was extremely worried and tried unsuccessfully to contact her permanent secretary to seek his advice and protection. It is clear that she was ordered to leak.
In last Sunday's edition of The Observer, as has been pointed out, Mr. Bernard Ingham was directly quoted as saying, "You will … do as you are … well told." That is a direct challenge from a leading newspaper. If it is untrue, honour and reputation oblige Mr. Ingham to issue a writ. If it is true, he has committed an unacceptable deceit and should resign. It is plain that without No. 10's clearance or cover and without the urging of Mr. Bernard Ingham, the leak would never have taken place. As the Select Committee commented, the authority of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry alone would not have been enough. The Committee stated:We do not believe that such authority is sufficient, or would be regarded by senior officials in key positions as sufficient, to make public parts of a documentThe Prime Minister's disclaimer that, when her office was approached by the Department of Trade and Industry, her officials "did not seek my agreement" is irrelevant. They knew that it was not necessary. They knew that it was what she herself wished to be done. Indeed, if a Prime Minister thought, as the right hon. Lady put it in her own words, that it was "a matter of duty" that the information be put in the public domain, it would be impossible to reach any other conclusion. Her other disclaimer, that she regretted the exact way in which the disclosure was made, contradicts her own statement that in view of the urgency of the matter, the disclosure should be made in the way it was.
- —which was classified;
- —which did not originate in the Secretary of State's own department;
- —which contained the advice of a Law Officer;
- —which was to be disclosed without the knowledge or permission of the Law Officer."
Given the Prime Minister's own statement that it was "a matter of duty" that the Solicitor-General's letter be made known publicly, and having used the Secretary of 406 State for Trade and Industry to instigate the Solicitor-General's letter, her statement that she did not know about Mr. Brittan's own role in the matter of disclosure until the inquiry had reported on 22 January is incredible. Nevertheless, she proceeded to set up a leak inquiry. The Prime Minister may not have known the full details surrounding the leak, not least because she carefully refrained from asking Mr. Bernard Ingham and Mr. Powell about the leak when she saw them the following day. They carefully avoided giving her the information, too.
Significantly, the Select Committee asked the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he had any conversations with the Prime Minister about the fact that he had authorised disclosure of part of the Solicitor-General's letter before the Prime Minister received the report of the inquiry. He refused to tell us. When it was put to him that there was a period after the inquiry had been set up, during which he knew what his role had been but chose not to inform the Prime Minister, he would not comment.
The leak could only have been instigated by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, by the Prime Minister's own officials at No. 10 or by agreement between them. The Prime Minister must have known this and deliberately declined to ask either of them who had done what. Again, this is conduct unworthy of a Prime Minister.
§ Sir Humphrey Atkins
I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to paragraph 183 of our report, which says:The evidence is that the action of the Prime Minister's office on 6 January … was without her direct authority. She has stated she had no knowledge on 6 January of what was taking place. We accept this.Is the right hon. Gentleman telling the House that he does not agree with the 10 Members of the Select Committee, including the three Labour Members?
§ Mr. Shore
The right hon. Gentleman has not been listening closely enough to my argument. I accept that statement for what it is worth. She was not told about these matters or consulted by her officials on 6 January. That is what she said and I believe her, but if the right hon. Gentleman has a better look at what I have said, he will see why that statement by the Prime Minister has to be seen in the context of what happened before and after.
The Government's response to the Defence Committee's report glides carefully over the central issue of prime ministerial involvement. The then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry conveniently carried the can. He resigned, but interestingly, as one of my hon. Friends pointed out, not because he had improperly leaked the Solicitor-General's letter but because he felt that he had lost the confidence of his colleagues. The Prime Minister, in her remarkable letter to him, made no reference to the leak of the letter but made it clear that it was her wishthat you should remain a Member of the Cabinet … hope that it will not be long before you return to high office to continue your Ministerial career.Not only was no Minister rebuked or punished for this breach of the Official Secrets Act and flagrant violation of the rules of confidentiality surrounding Law Officers' advice, but none of the high civil servants involved were rebuked either. Mr. Mogg has recently been promoted to under-secretary and the Prime Minister went out of her way to tell the House: 407My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I have total confidence in our officials referred to in the report."—[Official Report, 24 July 1986; Vol. 102, c. 588.]In the Government's response to the Select Committee, paragraph 38 reads:the Government is satisfied that those concerned acted in good faith, and remains of the view that, having regard to all the circumstances, disciplinary proceedings were not called for.The Prime Minister has expressed her regret that the Solicitor-General's letter was disclosed in the way that it was disclosed, but it is clear that she considers the breach of the Official Secrets Act and the flouting of a major convention to be no more than the merest peccadillo.
The Westland affair raises major questions as to the proper conduct of Ministers and above all of the Prime Minister. It also raises, acutely, the accountability of Ministers to Parliament. Referring to the refusal of Ministers to allow the five civil servants directly involved to give evidence before it, the Select Committee says:At the heart of this problem lies the question of accountability to Parliament … The fact that Ministers have not made themselves fully accountable to parliament in this matter has called into question the conduct of the Civil Servants involved.Both the Defence Committee and the Treasury and Civil Service Committee have stated their rejection of the Government's excuse for not allowing civil servants to be questioned, which is that, having been subjected to a full official inquiry, they would be placed in double jeopardy.
In their response to the Select Committee, the Government not only rejected the Select Committee's argument and restated without a single qualification the old basic principles that Ministers are responsible to Parliament and civil servants are responsible to Ministers; they also lay down new and tighter restrictions on what civil servants can do when they appear before Select Committees. As they say in paragraph 41:Civil servants who appear before them do so as representatives of, and subject to the instructions of, the Minister.In paragraph 44, they say:Accordingly the Government proposes to make it clear to civil servants giving evidence to Select Committees that they should not answer questions which are or appear to be directed to the conduct of themselves or of other named individual civil servants.That restriction would neuter the work of the Select Committee on Defence, would have made the existing report of that Committee impossible and would have neutered the work of all Select Committees. That has been the testimony of all the Chairmen of Select Committees who have spoken in this debate.
The Government's response to the Committee is extraordinary. It is perhaps even more extraordinary when we recall, as I did at the beginning of my speech, that Select Committees were expressly recognised through their competence to consider the issues raised by the Westland developments. I refresh my memory of the debate which took place on 25 June 1979 when the new system of Select Committees was proposed by the then Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), and endorsed by the House. The right hon. Gentleman prefaced his speech with the statement:It has been increasingly felt that the twentieth century Parliament is not effectively supervising the Executive, and that while the power and effectiveness of Whitehall has grown, that of Westminster has diminished.408The proposals that the Government are placing before the House are intended to redress the balance of power to enable the House of Commons to do more effectively the job it has been elected to do.Later in his speech the right hon. Gentleman said:The Government will make available to Select Committees as much information as possible, including confidential information for which, of course, protection may have to be sought by means of the sidelining procedure … There need be no fear that departmental Ministers will refuse to attend Committees to answer questions about their Departments or that they will not make every effort to ensure that the fullest possible information is made available to them.I give the House the pledge on the part of the Government that every Minister from the most senior Cabinet Minister to the most junior Under-Secretary will do all in his or her power to co-operate with the new system of Committees and to make it a success." — [Official Report, 25 June 1979; Vol 969, c. 36–45.]We have moved a long way from June 1979 when those statements were made. The new restrictions which the Government are now placing upon civil servants giving evidence to Select Committees will greatly reduce their effectiveness and must be rejected by the House.
The Westland story has revealed, as the Select Committee on Defence reports and the Government's response have revealed, that whatever degree of accountability there may be for Ministers to the House and its Select Committees, there is no such accountability for the Prime Minister and her servants in No. 10. Prime Ministers have appeared before Select Committees.
§ Mr. Shore
Most recently, Mr. Neville Chamberlain appeared before a Select Committee in 1937 on the interesting question of the Official Secrets Act 1911 and the alleged breach of that Act.
However, this Prime Minister does not appear before Select Committees and she refuses to allow her officials at No. 10 to appear. No. 10 is surrounded by an iron curtain of secrecy and within it deception, half-truth, manipulation and evasion are free to flourish. It cannot be penetrated even when flagrant abuses of legality and procedure have been committed. That is bad For Government, for the House of Commons and for democracy. If we are to achieve proper accountability and redress the balance of power between Whitehall and Westminster, it is our duty to tear those barriers down. I applaud the persistence of the Select Committee and I urge the Committees in renewed hearing to complete the task which they have so successfully begun.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
It is now just five hours since the debate began. The matter has been closely argued and seriously debated. Little has been given or sought. However, the one point which binds all of the speakers, has been the thanks that they have expressed to the departmental Select committee on Defence for the third and fourth reports which have provided the heart of this afternoon's debate.
One thing which has also emerged from the debate and the considerationof the many aspects is how many facets are contained in this single topic. In those circumstances, the appropriateness of debating the motion for the Adjournment has been illustrated. Nobody doubts that a motion for the Adjournment can be devastating in its 409 consequences. Neville Chamberlain managed to win a motion for the Adjournment and resigned shortly afterwards— [Interruption.] I was happy, Mr. Speaker, to cast the fly, not realising just how many lazy trout there would be on the Opposition Benches.
The fact is that the only discussion about the motion for the Adjournment that there has been this afternoon has related not to the melodrama to which I have just referred but, very properly, to the question of the Government's relationship with Select Committees. The great virtue about this motion for the Adjournment is that the debate, discussion and dialogue can proceed unimpeded by anything that happens at 10 o'clock this evening.
Understandably, a great deal of emphasis has been placed upon the fortunes of the Westland helicopter industry. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) told us about his anxieties. They were reinforced by my hon. Friend the member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). To secure an appropriate ordering base for the company is obviously a matter of concern. However, the Government are entitled to observe that during the last few months there has been a most happy record of developing international collaborative deals. That must lie at the heart of the future fortunes of this company—a point that was scored by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). Whatever its discord in other directions, one thing that unites the House is that the future of this company should be secured and that the very considerable recent improvement in its fortunes should be further sustained.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) made a speech that will long be remembered about the issue of collective responsibility. One of the consequences of this debate, and of the whole issue, will be that the importance of collective responsibility as a canon of government has been underlined. All too often institutions and conventions become accepted and almost dull in their familiarity. Only when one experiences their absence does one realise how vital they are to the proper working of government. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend upon the forceful eloquence with which he put his case.
The Select Committee point has been urged upon me by speaker after speaker, beginning with the right hon. Member for Llanelli. The Westland incident has illustrated the importance of Select Committees and the nature of their relationship with the Executive. There have been several references to these matters in the debate and, as Leader of the House, it is appropriate that I should address myself to them. The leader of the Liberal party was one of several speakers who expressed great anxiety that there may be in prospect an evolution of the powers and practices of Select Committees that would be detrimental to their relationship with Parliament generally. I hope that by the end of the debate he can be persuaded at least to have an open mind on that topic.
Before discussing these issues specifically it would benefit the House if I were to say a few words about the development of departmental Select Committees so that they can be seen in context. I welcomed the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). He treated the House to an exposition of the origin of the Select Committee system 410 and expressed a view which constantly needs to be expressed about the importance of maintaining a balance between Select Committees and the Floor of the House.
The House will recall that the present structure of Select Committees dates only from 1979. The present system was set up then by the House on the initiative of this Government following the comprehensive recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure in its first report of the Session 1977–78. While there had been Select Committees of the House since long before then, the present deparmental Select Committee structure was a new creation and has proved its effectiveness. Indeed, departmental Select Committees have become a familar and established part of our parliamentary procedure.
This Government took the initiative in setting up the departmental Select Committee. We have no intention of seeking to hinder or impede their effective scrutiny of the Executive. This follows an undertaking given by the then Leader of the House my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) spoke about that. My right hon. Friend said that the Government would do all they couldto co-operate with the new system of Commitees and to make it a success.He went on to say:I believe that declaration of intent to be a better guarantee than formal provisions laid down in Standing Orders".—[Official Report, 25 June 1979; Vol. 969, c. 45–6.]The new system of Committees inherited the longstanding powers of earlier Select Committees. These are set out formally in Standing Orders and are far reaching and without condition. The powers of departmental Select Committees specifically are set out in Standing Order No. 99. Among other powers, this clearly says that departmental Select Committees can send for persons, papers and records. These powers are unqualified.
However, in practice these formal powers have consistently been exercised with discretion and by convention. As is the case with other aspects of business and procedure in this House, convention has been accepted as appropriate for many years — certainly before the departmental Select Committees were created. While Standing Orders must necessarily deal in absolutes, conventions enable the many considerations and factors affecting the work of Select Committees to be taken into account.
The purpose of these conventions is to allow the development of a way of working which is satisfactory to the Committee and to the Executive. In addition, the operation of the conventions has sought to preserve two generally agreed principles of government. The first of these is that each Minister is responsible to Parliament for the conduct of his Department and for the actions carried out by his Department in pursuit of Government policies or in the discharge of responsibilities laid upon him as a Minister. He has the duty to explain in Parliament the extent of his powers and duties and to give an account to Parliament of what is done by him in his capacity as a Minister or by his Department. The second principle is that civil servants, in turn, are responsible to their Ministers for their actions and conduct.
The House would not wish this clear line of ministerial accountability for Departments to be weakened in any way by seeking a new and separate accountability from 411 officials. The House will wish to note that this was the view of the Select Committee on Procedure in its 1978 report.
It said:it would not, however, be appropriate for the House to seek directly or through its Committee to enforce its right to secure information from the Executive at a level below that of the Ministerial head of the department concerned … since such a practice would tend to undermine rather than strengthen the accountability of Ministers to the House.I appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) about the status of that report.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I am following my right hon. Friend carefully, but am I right in saying that the decision of the House was that investigations should be conducted by a Select Committee in relation to a specific Department and that one of the difficulties has been that Parliament never gave authority for, say, a Select Committee to investigate matters relating to the Department of another Minister? Has that not been one of the difficulties in this matter?
§ Mr. Biffen
I can think of rather more formidable difficulties in this case, but my hon. Friend has made a valid point. That is a matter of some concern for those working with the Select Committees and I know that it constantly requires the attention of the Liaison Select Committee. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
Would it not solve all the difficulties if we were to establish a Select Committee to investigate the workings of No. 10?
§ Mr. Biffen
One would need heroic imagination to suppose that the work of No. 10 has not been undergoing tremendous scrutiny over recent months. The truth is that there are some Labour Members for whom this exercise knows no end. They are on an eternal pilgrimage of trying to discredit my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to undermine the Government. The idea that they are out to secure some nice constitutional balance is wholly mistaken. I ask my hon. Friends not to be too generous in the judgment of some.
§ Mr. Batiste
Cannot the bogus nature of the Opposition's indignation on this matter best be measured by how few Back Benchers there are on the Opposition Benches?
§ Mr. Biffen
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point, but I was hoping to proceed in a calm atmosphere rather than one which was needlessly excited. However, my hon. Friend makes a point which can well be seen when one compares the Benches on either side.
There have been times when the Government and the Select Committees have had different perceptions of how the traditional conventions should be applied in a particular case. Those difficulties are inevitable given the different standpoint of the Select Committees and the Executive. Although there is a mechanism of last resort for resolving those disagreements by putting the matter before the House, the practice has always been to seek the kind of resolution which is generally acceptable by using the flexibility which the conventions afford.
The Government sought to find such a resolution in relation to the Defence Select Committee's inquiry into Westland. In the debate on 15 January, the House had 412 endorsed the Government's recognition of the competience of departmental Select Committees to consider the issues raised by Westland. That did not, of course, mean that the usual conventions should be set aside.
Among those conventions is the long-standing practice of the Prime Minister not appearing before Select Committees to give evidence. That point was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who made a formidable speech detailing criticisms of the Government's reactions. In particular, I have noted his comment that it would not be appropriate for the Prime Minister to appear before a Select Committee.
There has been a tradition that the Prime Minister should be answerable only on the Floor of the House. In this instance, my right hon. Friend has already made a statement to the House on 23 January this year and taken part in two debates on the incident on 15 and 27 January. She has also answered orally and in writing a number of questions on the matter. That, Mr. Speaker, is entirely in accordance with the practice of the House and of successive Administrations. A Prime Minister, by convention, is accountable to the House rather than to individual Select Committees.
That aside, there were two areas in which difficulties were experienced in finding an appropriate way forward. The first occasion is discussed by the Committee in paragraphs 218 to 224 of its report. This concerned the production of two documents which the Committee believed were material to its inquiry. This incident was referred to by the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert). The Government were reluctant to release the documents themselves, since they included material of a classified and commercially confidential nature. But summaries of the documents were provided at an early stage, and certain parts of the original documents were submitted to the Committee in full. Paragraph 224 of the Defence Select Committee's report states the view that the efforts of the permanent secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry to furnish it with summaries as full and accurate as possiblewere both conscientious and successful".A second area, one of greater difficulty, has been the provision of oral evidence from certain named officials: three from the Department of Trade and Industry, and two from the Prime Minister's Office. The convention in this area is that it is for Ministers to determine who should represent them before Select Committees. The power to call for the attendance of individually named persons is, of course, formally unqualified as the Select Committee was right to assert in paragraph 228 of its report.
Yet it has always been acknowledged that, with regard to civil servants, that power must be limited in practice so that the principles of ministerial accountability are not undermined. In this instance, the officials concerned had already been questioned by the head of the home Civil Service in the course of his inquiry, to which the Prime Minister had agreed. They had given him full accounts of their parts in the matter. The Government took the view that it would be unreasonable for them to be subjected to a further round of detailed questioning by the Defence Select Committee. But the Government were anxious to be helpful, and the Secretary of the Cabinet therefore offered to give evidence to the Committee on the basis of the information which he had amassed in the course of his 413 inquiry. I appreciate that, notwithstanding its formal powers, in the event the Committee decided, albeit reluctantly, to take evidence from the Cabinet Secretary.
I recognise at once that differences between Select Committees and the Executive are not confined to the Westland inquiry. I realise that the Trade and Industry Select Committee investigating the tin crisis found it unsatisfactory that its investigation had to be carried out under that constraint. The Government were acting in accordance with established conventions, which form the basis on which civil servants give evidence before Select Committees. But what the Committee sought would have implied a change in those conventions.
The Government believe it is important that the conventions should continue to obtain and to be observed in the present form by Ministers, officials and Select Committee.
§ Mr. Douglas
Surely the clear implication is that the Government should withdraw paragraph 44 of the response.
§ Mr. Biffen
I shall come to that point, because it is the Government's view that paragraph 44 is intended to sustain what they believe to be the existing position — [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Biffen
I hope that I can proceed with my speech so that I can persuade my right hon. Friend that this is a matter on which there can be genuine discussion.
Within the conventions the Government have sought to reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement in all their dealings with Select Committees. So far, I have shown how, in disagreements with Select Committees, the Government have sought to act helpfully within the traditional conventions. They have not altered those conventions, nor do they seek to do so. Despite that, it has been suggested in Fleet street in past days that the Government's response to the fourth report of the Select Committee on Defence is in some way breaking new ground and that it seeks to weaken the entire Select Committee system. This is as damaging as it is untrue.
Attention has been directed especially to the final sentence of paragraph 44 of the Government's response, to which the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) referred. It says that the Government propose to make it clear to civil servants giving evidence to Select Committees that they should not answer questions which are, or appear to be, directed to their conduct or that of other named civil servants. It has been represented as a way of making any future Select Committee inquiry ineffective. It does not, and is not intended, to do anything of the sort. Instead, the Government's response to the Select Committee on Defence seeks to restate the principles of accountability and to reinforce the conventions which support and give effect to those principles.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon
The Public Accounts Committee does just that week after week. Parliament votes money and the accounting officer is responsible for its expenditure. His conduct comes before the Committee. Less than two years ago, after careful consideration, I had to rebuke an accounting officer in strong terms, having 414 given him in private session the opportunity to withdraw. He did not withdraw. I rebuked him and the Secretary of State had to dismiss him. That can be the result of such an examination, but such an examination will be impossible if that last sentence remains.
§ Mr. Biffen
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he is putting an entirely different interpretation upon it. I hope that by the end of my speech I will have convinced him either that he is mistaken or that it is still a matter that we can discuss.—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh"] I am sorry if I have shot the fox. Sometimes things happen that way.
I should explain why I believe that this restatement of principles and the setting out of their consequences is necessary. The work of departmental Select Committees is of relatively recent origin. The Committees are bound to try to develop their roles so as to fulfil their responsibilities as they see fit. Even so, we judge that there are signs that Select Committees are looking to assign responsibility to individual named civil servants. That would cut across the principle that it is Ministers who are answerable to the House. On account of this, we have put down the marker contained in paragraph 44.
Many factors have led us to the view that Select Committees should not act as disciplinary tribunals. The first is the weakening of overall ministerial accountability. There is also already a comprehensive and detailed disciplinary system for the Civil Service.
§ Mr. Reg Freeson (Brent, East)
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government are putting down a marker with this sentence in paragraph 44. Will he give an undertaking to the House, in line with what he said, that the matter can be further discussed and that no instructions will be issued to civil servants until the discussion has taken place and it has come before the House again for a decision?
§ Mr. Biffen
By the time I have finished my speech, I hope that I shall have satisfied the hon. Gentleman and made him unhappy, because I can give him that assurance.
Select Committees could not properly be grafted on to that system, however carefully it is carried out. Examination of conduct by Select Committees must necessarily contain an element of unfairness. The civil servants appearing before them are still subject to Ministers' instructions in answering questions and are without the safeguards and rights attached to the disciplinary procedures.
To some extent, this debate could not exist without Bernard Ingham, to judge by some of the speeches made this afternoon, but the speech of the right hon. Member for Dudley, East was redolent of hostility towards that civil servant.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, almost grudgingly, that he believed that Mr. Ingham had more power than a Member of Parliament and, indeed, a member of the Cabinet. All I am saying is that this is hardly the atmosphere in which to expect these people to be subject to the processes of any disciplinary implications of a Select Committee. It is all too easy to resort to the naming of individuals on the Floor of the House and elsewhere, but conventions govern these things and it is proper that the House should try to strike a realistic balance.
Given these arguments, the Government's proposal in paragraph 44 of their response to the Defence Select 415 Committee was designed to underline the intractable problems that would arise should Select Committees involve themselves in disciplinary matters. Unfortunately, however, the Government have been represented as meaning that no official would in future answer questions about any course of action followed by himself or any of his colleagues. There is no question of this.
As now, if something has gone amiss, a Select Committee will be free to seek an account from the Minister concerned or from a senior official representing the Minister. This could cover what has gone amiss, why it went amiss, what has been done to correct and remedy what has gone wrong and to prevent a recurrence. In short, we do not seek to prevent Select Committees from pursuing their inquiries into the expenditure, administration and policies of Departments.
As for departmental expenditure, the Public Accounts Committee has the special function of examining the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by Parliament. The Government are fully aware of the unique position of, and the conventions surrounding, the Public Accounts Committee. It is not the Government's intention to alter in any way the basis of the accountability of accounting officers to the Public Accounts Committee. It is, of course, also the case that although the accounting officer answers personally to the Public Accounts Committee for the aspects of his Department's activities which concern that Committee, he himself remains ultimately responsible to his Minister in all things.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral. South)
As we grind inexorably and somewhat boringly to the end of this peroration, may I ask whether it would not be proper for the Government to give some time to debate the relationship between the Government and Select Committees rather than to relate it to this subject? I had hoped to hear something about helicopters, but I have heard nothing.
§ Mr. Biffen
I assure my hon. Friend that a great deal of the debate was about Select Committees, and it would have been exceedingly remiss had I not answered in these terms.
As for the work of other Select Committees, I imagine that the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee may well wish to consider further the role of civil servants in relation to Select Committees. I hope that what I have said will be helpful to the Committee in such consideration.
I can assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) that the Government will seek to contribute constructively to the Committee's work within the general principles set out in the Government's response and in what I have said this evening. I look forward to seeing the result of its inquiry.
My right hon. Friend has another interest in this area as well as being Chairman of the Liaison Committee. This Committee will, of course, have a special role in looking at how in practice the work of Select Committees evolves in the context of the Government's response and the new guidelines for officials which will be drawn up. These will be intended to sustain — not undermine — existing practices. Even so, I can assure the House that they will not be finally and formally issued until the Liaison Committee has had a chance to see and comment upon them. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) will at least take that as a token of good intent.
416 We have debated exhaustively the defence implications of Westland and have looked in detail at the decision-making connected with it. Technically, this is a procedural motion on the Adjournment. Many hon. Members have no desire to adjourn and no desire for the 10 o'clock rule; they just want endless debate on the Westland topic, not to try to find better ways of accountability but to use the debate as a lever in their political objectives.
§ Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 185, Noes 342.420
|Division No. 302]||[10 pm|
|Abse, Leo||Fisher, Mark|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Flannery, Martin|
|Alton, David||Forrester, John|
|Anderson, Donald||Foster, Derek|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Foulkes, George|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Freud, Clement|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Garrett, W. E,|
|Barnett, Guy||George, Bruce|
|Barron, Kevin||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Beith, A. J.||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Bell, Stuart||Gould, Bryan|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Gourlay, Harry|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)|
|Blair, Anthony||Hardy, Peter|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Boyes, Roland||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Home Robertson, John|
|Buchan, Norman||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Caborn, Richard||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)|
|Cartwright, John||John, Brynmor|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Clarke, Thomas||Kennedy, Charles|
|Clay, Robert||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Clelland, David Gordon||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Lambie, David|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)||Lamond, James|
|Cohen, Harry||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Coleman, Donald||Leighton, Ronald|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Corbett, Robin||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Litherland, Robert|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Livsey, Richard|
|Craigen, J. M.||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Crowther, Stan||Loyden, Edward|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McCartney, Hugh|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||McGuire, Michael|
|Deakins, Eric||McKelvey, William|
|Dewar, Donald||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Dixon, Donald||Maclennan, Robert|
|Dobson, Frank||McNamara, Kevin|
|Dormand, Jack||McTaggart, Robert|
|Douglas, Dick||McWilliam, John|
|Dubs, Alfred||Madden, Max|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Marek, Dr John|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Eadie, Alex||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Eastham, Ken||Maxton, John|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpfn SE)||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Fatchett, Derek||Meacher, Michael|
|Faulds, Andrew||Michie, William|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Snape, Peter|
|Nellist, David||Soley, Clive|
|O'Brien, William||Spearing, Nigel|
|O'Neill, Martin||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Stott, Roger|
|Park, George||Strang, Gavin|
|Patchett, Terry||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Pendry, Tom||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Randall, Stuart||Tinn, James|
|Raynsford, Nick||Wainwright, R.|
|Redmond, Martin||Wallace, James|
|Richardson, Ms Jo||Wareing, Robert|
|Roberts, Allan (Bootle)||Weetch, Ken|
|Robertson, George||Welsh, Michael|
|Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)||White, James|
|Rogers, Allan||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Rowlands, Ted||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Winnick, David|
|Sheerman, Barry||Woodall, Alec|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Shields, Mrs Elizabeth||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Mr. Chris Smith and|
|Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)||Mr. Allen McKay.|
|Short, Mrs H.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Adley, Robert||Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Carttiss, Michael|
|Alexander, Richard||Cash, William|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Chalker, Mrs Lynda|
|Amess, David||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Ancram, Michael||Chapman, Sydney|
|Arnold, Tom||Chope, Christopher|
|Ashby, David||Churchill, W. S.|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Clark, Hon A. (Ptym'th S'n)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushclifie)|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Clegg, Sir Walter|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Cockeram, Eric|
|Baldry, Tony||Colvin, Michael|
|Batiste, Spencer||Conway, Derek|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Coombs, Simon|
|Bellingham, Henry||Cope, John|
|Bendall, Vivian||Corrie, John|
|Bennett, Rt Hon Sir Frederic||Couchman, James|
|Benyon, William||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Best, Keith||Critchley, Julian|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Crouch, David|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Blackburn, John||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Dover, Den|
|Bottomley, Peter||du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Dunn, Robert|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Durant, Tony|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Dykes, Hugh|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Eggar, Tim|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Bright, Graham||Evennett, David|
|Brinton, Tim||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Fallon, Michael|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Farr, Sir John|
|Browne, John||Favell, Anthony|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Budgen, Nick||Fletcher, Alexander|
|Butcher, John||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam||Forman, Nigel|
|Butterfill, John||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Forth, Eric|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Lilley, Peter|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)|
|Franks, Cecil||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||Lord, Michael|
|Freeman, Roger||Luce, Rt Hon Richard|
|Fry, Peter||McCrindle, Robert|
|Gale, Roger||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Galley, Roy||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Maclean, David John|
|Goodlad, Alastair||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Gorst, John||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Gow, Ian||McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||Madel, David|
|Greenway, Harry||Major, John|
|Gregory, Conal||Malins, Humfrey|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon||Malone, Gerald|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Maples, John|
|Grist, Ian||Marland, Paul|
|Ground, Patrick||Marlow, Antony|
|Grylls, Michael||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Mates, Michael|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Hannam, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Harvey, Robert||Mellor, David|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Merchant, Piers|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Hayes, J.||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Hayward, Robert||Moate, Roger|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Heddle, John||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Hickmet, Richard||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Hill, James||Mudd, David|
|Hind, Kenneth||Murphy, Christopher|
|Hirst, Michael||Needham, Richard|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Neubert, Michael|
|Howard, Michael||Newton, Tony|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Normanton, Tom|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)||Norris, Steven|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Osborn, Sir John|
|Hunter, Andrew||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Jackson, Robert||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Jessel, Toby||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Pawsey, James|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Key, Robert||Pollock, Alexander|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Porter, Barry|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Portillo, Michael|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Powley, John|
|Knox, David||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Price, Sir David|
|Lang, Ian||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Latham, Michael||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Raffan, Keith|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Rathbone, Tim|
|Lester, Jim||Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Renton, Tim|
|Lightbown, David||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Speed, Keith|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Speller, Tony|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Spencer, Derek|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Rost, Peter||Squire, Robin|
|Rowe, Andrew||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Stanley, Rt Hon John|
|Ryder, Richard||Stern, Michael|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.||Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Sumberg, David|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarf)||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Shersby, Michael||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Sims, Roger||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Thompson, Donald (Calder V)||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)||Watson, John|
|Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)||Watts, John|
|Thornton, Malcolm||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Thurnham, Peter||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Wheeler, John|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)||Whitfield, John|
|Tracey, Richard||Whitney, Raymond|
|Trippier, David||Wilkinson, John|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Wolfson, Mark|
|Viggers, Peter||Wood, Timothy|
|Waddington, David||Woodcock, Michael|
|Wakeham, Rt Hon John||Yeo, Tim|
|Walden, George||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Waller, Gary||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Walters, Dennis||Mr. Robert Boscawen and|
|Ward, John||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.