HC Deb 06 June 1989 vol 154 cc51-3
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I genuinely apologise for raising a point of order on such a busy day but, of course, if it is not raised today, the first opportunity, I shall be unable to raise it in future.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) raised a point of order on 26 May with Mr. Deputy Speaker which appears in Hansard at columns 1259 and 1260. He referred to a story that had been reported on BBC television the previous evening, 25 May, alleging the connection between the expulsion of Soviet agents from the United Kingdom and possible blackmail attempts on Labour Members.

The actual signing-off headline of the end of the television bulletin said: Senior British sources have been giving reasons for the expulsion of Russian spies, who were believed to be involved with middle east terrorists and blackmailing Labour MPs. The word "possible" had disappeared when the headline was given at the end of the BBC television news. In his point of order, my right hon. Friend said that he had contacted the Foreign Secretary's Office that morning before raising his point of order, but officials there were completely unable to clarify the position.

The following day, the Foreign Secretary responded to a letter from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition making it perfectly clear that Labour Members were not, in any way, associated with the activities for which Soviet diplomats had been expelled from the United Kingdom. No denial had been made before my right hon. Friend wrote to the Foreign Secretary. The Government knew that the allegations were a tissue of lies and it is surprising that absolutely no statement and no denial was made before my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition wrote to the Foreign Secretary who, I agree, responded immediately.

I understand that it is not a matter for you, Mr. Speaker: I want to make that quite clear.[Interruption.] I am on a point of order. Whether the Minister of State, to whom I have given notice of this was misunderstood or misrepresented by the BBC correspondent is of no concern to you, Mr. Speaker, or for that matter to me; I am not interested in that. My point of order simply concerns whether it is right for hon. Members to be subject to baseless allegations, whether or not such lies—and they were lies—originated within the Government.

Although you are not responsible for statements, Mr. Speaker, I beg you to consider the matter. A large number of hon. Members—all belonging to one party—were subject to baseless allegations which the Government knew to be a tissue of lies. Would it not be right and appropriate for the Minister concerned—who is in the Chamber and to whom I have given notice, and who has denied responsibility—to make a statement to the House to clarify the position and to be questioned by hon. Members? He has a duty and responsibility to the House, as a Member of Parliament. He should stand up and make his position clear.

Mr. Speaker

Of course I deprecate any allegations made against any hon. Member of the House, from whatever quarter. I think that what the hon. Gentleman is complaining about is a report on the BBC. That is not a matter for me, and I do not think that I can deal with it.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I entirely accept that what was said on the BBC is not directly a matter for you. What is a matter for you is, perhaps, to let the House know whether the Minister who, apparently inadvertently, may have been responsible for the report that was broadcast as a result of a lunchtime conversation with a BBC journalist —as he is present and received warning that the matter was to be raised—will now be honourable enough to ask to be allowed to make a personal statement making clear to the House what he has apparently said outside it.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not an astonishing proposition that the Government should make a statement every time allegations are made about members of the Opposition? It is a common experience for all of us to hear allegations against Opposition Members, and indeed against some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Minister, who is in his place, has behaved with complete honour throughout. He issued a full statement on 2 June. The matter was raised in the House on 26 May, the day on which we rose for the recess. Is it not clear that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is living up to his reputation—that of being, in the words of a former leader of the Labour party, the silliest man in the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not possible for me to comment on what has been said. I think that we must move on.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a heavy day ahead of us. There is nothing that I can do about the matter. I cannot be held responsible for conversations with members of the BBC or the press: it is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You and I were parliamentary colleagues of a Northumberland miner by the name of Will Owen: you may remember him. Will Owen was broken by circumstances which—I choose my words very carefully —turned out subsequently to be rather different from what had been alleged at the time. Will Owen died a broken and, some would say, a disgraced man. I think that all of us, particularly Ministers, must be very careful indeed. The Minister of State probably did not know Will Owen, but he was a friend of mine and of some Conservative Members who privately felt as strongly as I did.

The Minister may recollect that in the case of Will Owen an injustice may have been done. I think that Ministers who were not here during Will Owen's time ought to be very careful about being reported on the subject of events of which they may not have first-hand knowledge. In a sense, Mr. Speaker, you are the custodian of departed colleagues as well. I think that for the protection of one of those colleagues you should at least invite the Minister to make some kind of statement.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that we should all be extremely careful about what we say both inside and outside the House.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order relates to a written answer given today by the Minister of State, Home Office about the introduction of visa requirements for people coming to this country from Turkey.

On 26 May there was an Adjournment debate on the position facing Kurdish asylum-seekers. I raised a number of questions with the Minister, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore). At no stage in his lengthy reply did the Minister of State say that he had already written to the Turkish Government seeking to lift the provisions of the 1960 agreement between Britain and Turkey to the effect that visas would not be required. He sent the letter to the Turkish Government on 23 May. It is now revealed, on our first day back after a short recess, that the Government are indeed seeking to impose visa restrictions from 23 June on people visiting this country from Turkey. The implications are clearly very serious. Anyone seeking political asylum from Turkey will not be able to come here, as a visa will not be made available. If they try to come here, the airline or other carrier that has brought them can be fined £1,000.

This is a serious matter, Mr. Speaker. It should not creep out in a parliamentary answer; it ought to be the subject of a statement from the Home Secretary so that he can be questioned and opportunities for debate can be provided. I am sure that you agree that it is a serious matter, and we look to you to provide some facility for us to question the Government about their behaviour and, indeed, their treatment of the House in not revealing the information on 26 May, as they could have.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point, and I am sure that it has been heard by those on the Government Front Bench. I have given the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to raise the matter, and no doubt he will have other opportunities.

Mr. Winnick


Mr. Speaker

Order. I will not take any more points of order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point, and we have a busy day ahead of us.

Mr. Winnick

On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has had a very good run this afternoon.