HC Deb 07 December 1988 vol 143 cc334-5 4.37 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask your guidance on a matter of public interest. The background to the matter is the letter that appeared in The Guardian today from an official in the information department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I understand that that official has been suspended. As this is undoubtedly a matter of public interest, what steps can be taken to get the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary to answer the serious valid allegations made in that letter? Now that the official has been suspended, we should have a statement as soon as possible from the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Speaker

That may be, but I cannot give the hon. Gentleman tactical advice on how to approach these matters. He knows the form himself.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it entirely a question of tactical advice? Is it not more that the House of Commons should be treated properly? It is most extraordinary for a senior official—we have looked him up in the Foreign Office list and he seems to be a second secretary—to write such a letter, giving not a private address but the address of the Foreign Office information department. In the circumstances, should not the House of Commons at least be told the background before other people rush to judgment? There is also an element of urgency about this case, so why should the House wait and wait?

Mr. Speaker

It may be a matter of great public interest, but it is not a matter of order for me. I feel sure that the hon. Gentleman's comments have been heard by the Leader of the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is another way of examining the matter. At the weekend, the press were informed of the junior Health Minister's views about eggs and salmonella poisoning. As a result, at the earliest possible opportunity on Monday the Secretary of State for Health had to come to the Dispatch Box to explain away his junior Minister's comments.

That matter may or may not be as important as the issue that has been raised in The Guardian today. It is true that the official concerned is not an elected Member of the House and that he is not a junior Minister. One thing is certain—he never will be now. Nevertheless, the fact remains that he is a servant of the state, working in a Government Department, and has said something of great importance regarding the Prime Minister's conduct. If it is right that a Secretary of State must be trotted out every time his junior Minister opens her gob, is it not right that a Minister should explain to the House why it is that a senior official of his Department has said important things about the way in which the Government are running their business?

Mr. Speaker

It is, as I have said, a matter of considerable interest but not a matter of order for me.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You, Mr. Speaker, may not have a copy of the letter published in The Guardian, but it comes from the Ministry's information department. The Minister is responsible to the House for the activities not only of junior Ministers but the whole of his Department. When a Ministry's information department issues a statement as unusual and as important as the one in question, the Minister concerned surely has a duty to the House to explain it.

Mr. Speaker

That may be so, but it is a matter for the Leader of the House and the Government, not for the Chair.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. On one last point—

Mr. Speaker

Order. No, not one last point.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Speaker

Order. No. About 50 right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in today's Second Reading debate, and I shall have to place a limit on the length of speeches. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) has not put down his name for that debate, although he may hope to catch my eye, and he is therefore taking time away from his right hon. and hon. Friends. However, I shall hear his point of order if it is important and if it is a matter for me.

Mr. Cryer

You, Mr. Speaker, urged the Leader of the House to make a statement on the matter. The Leader of the House is present and could do so immediately.

Mr. Speaker

I certainly did not urge the Leader of the House to make a statement. I said that the Leader of the House will have heard what had been said.