§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During your careful reply to my request at 3.30 pm for an adjournment under Standing Order No. 20 to discuss the detonation and ignition of Kuwaiti oilfields by Iraq, you said that it would indeed be a serious matter if it could be shown to be true. Alas, it is only too true, as pictures have shown the Al Wafra oilfield blazing and billowing out the blackest of smoke.
The House might also expect some response to the tragic loss of a fifth Tornado and, most urgently, because it is self-evidently a matter of extreme urgency, to the attack on Tel Aviv tonight. The Leader of the House or another senior Minister may be able to outline what the Government's response will be.
§ The Leader of the House (Mr. John MacGregor)
It may be for the convenience of the House if I respond to the hon. Gentleman. I believe that it is premature to make a statement now. I am advised that there is no firm evidence to confirm media reports. I suggest that we make a judgment tomorrow, in the light of confirmed facts, as to whether a statement is justified.
It might be helpful if I add that we are obviously keen to keep the House fully informed. We have already amply demonstrated that. Equally, it is not realistic to expect a statement on every new incident in the Gulf as it occurs. It will be necessary to make judgments as and when the need arises to justify a specific statement. We can discuss that matter as appropriate through the usual channels.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am not certain that any points of order can arise out of that, but I will call Mr. Ewing.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House has generously said that statements will be made as the occasion arises, but that the Government cannot make a statement on every incident. The attack on Tel Aviv is not just any incident. I do not need to spell out to the House or to those beyond the House the consequences which may flow from that attack. We could be overnight in the most catastrophic and serious position of all time. I hope that the House of Commons is not being denied a statement by the Secretary of State for Defence or the Foreign Secretary while at the same time they are holding press conferences outside. If that practice is adopted, in my judgment the House will wholly reject it.
§ Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. That is exactly the point. The entire world this evening is discussing the incredibly dramatic developments in this affair. There are flames from Tel Aviv to Saudi Arabia. There are dead people in the streets from Tel Aviv to Saudi Arabia. Why cannot the House of Commons hear from the Government their perception of what has happened, and debate it, as the whole world is doing this evening?
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely the key point is that it is clear from statements by the Israeli ambassador to Britain that Israel reserves the right to respond to the attack undoubtedly made upon it in recent hours. It is clear also 266 that the British Government are making representations to the Israeli Government, presumably urging that they do not retaliate, because if they did this would be an extremely serious escalation of the war in the Gulf.
Secondly, surely, as this is a United Nations-authorised war, the Security Council should be in permanent session to consider—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Perhaps that is so, but it is not a matter for me on a point of order. I repeat what I said this afternoon, that these are very serious matters, but the whole House has heard what the Leader of the House has said—that he will carefully consider whether a statement should be made about this tomorrow. I have nothing further to add; it is not my responsibility. Mr. Hood.
§ Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House tells the House that he is not in a position to confirm any of the stories that have been going round this place all day. I can tell him that American television has been running and confirming the same stories all day. It is a bit unbelievable when our Government say that they cannot confirm stories that have already been confirmed by American television. We want to know why the right hon. Gentleman cannot come to the Dispatch Box and give us some explanation of what has happened.
§ Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As one who spent some hours the other night speculating on television about a chemical attack on Tel Aviv, can I say that it really is quite wise for the Government to wait until facts are confirmed rather than this House joining in general speculation on television and radio reports that may turn out to be unjustified? In return for that, would the Leader of the House assure us that such statements will be made regularly, daily, as required, to the House?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I appreciate the opening comments of the right hon. Gentleman. I think that we have to judge all these developments as and when they occur and the need arises. It would be a mistake to say that we will make daily statements to the House, because I think it is necessary to judge each of the incidents. But I should have thought that we had made it very clear by what we have done in the past week that the Government are taking every step to keep the House fully informed both of the facts and of our attitude towards them.
§ Mr. Nellist
I do not intend to refer to the substance of any points raised, Mr. Speaker, but you will recall that, on a number of occasions, when a Minister of the Crown has responded to a point of order in this way, particularly on a second occasion as in this case—first to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and then to the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir David Steel)—and given substantial answers at the Box—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member knows perfectly well that I invited the Leader of the House—for the benefit of the House—to state exactly what the position was. That was not a statement; it was for the benefit of the House. We have very important business in front of us, and I think we should now move on. I will take one final point of order: Mr. Tony Benn.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point relates not to you, Mr. Speaker, but to what the Leader of the House said. There is no doubt from television reports and from statements by the Prime Minister on television that the attack on Israel is taken gravely by the Government. The Leader of the House could well have said that he will make a statement tomorrow, in which case the matter would have been disposed of. He did make a statement—that he could not guarantee a statement. Therefore, you are inevitably brought into this, because it is your task to defend the House—
§ Mr. Speaker
I know, but at great length. There are other ways of getting a statement. If the Government do not volunteer a statement, applications can be made to me.
§ Mr. Benn
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will allow me to make a serious point on a day when great events have occurred, yet the Leader of the House has declined to give us an assurance that there will be a statement tomorrow. 268 Apart from anything else, what has happened in Tel Aviv tonight is a threat to security under the United Nations charter. There can be no doubt about that, in the light of the Prime Minister's statement. All I ask is that the Leader of the House takes seriously the points that are being made and undertakes that, tomorrow, he will invite the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence or the Prime Minister to make a statement. All we are asking is that a statement be made tomorrow in the light of what has obviously happened.
§ Mr. Speaker
No. I was not seeking to be discourteous to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). If the Government do not make a statement, there are other means of obtaining information from the Government—applications made to me.
§ Mr. Cohen
Back Benchers have the right to question the Executive, and that becomes more important, not less, in time of war. There should be a statement on important incidents such as happened today. I ask, through you, Mr. Speaker, as the custodian of Back Benchers' rights, that we have a statement every day in the House on the events of this war, so that Back Benchers have an opportunity to question the Government about them.