HC Deb 15 June 1992 vol 209 cc665-7 4.26 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I rise to ask whether you have received a request from the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Social Security to make a statement on the revelation that the Government had intelligence information in the years before Maxwell's death that he was acting dishonestly. As those intelligence data were collected before 1989, the House needs to know why the Department for Trade and Industry granted an investment licence to two Maxwell companies in April 1988, which he later used to pillage those pension funds.

As those intelligence data were also presumably collected after 1989, how can the Government, including the Department of Social Security, not have known that Maxwell was dealing dishonestly with the pension fund moneys and therefore have been in a position to stop the plundering? Above all, we need to know why the Secretary of State, a week ago, misled the House—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must rephrase his statement. He knows that no Minister misleads the House, and I should be glad if he would withdraw his statement.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I am on my feet.

Mr. Meacher

Of course I withdraw that phrase.

We need to consider why the Minister said: nor is there any question of Government accepting responsibility".—[Official Report, 8 June 1992; Vol. 209. c. 23.] In the light of that revelation, the Government clearly have a responsibility. Will you, Madam Speaker, secure an early statement so that we can have a full inquiry into the matter?

Madam Speaker

The first question that the hon. Gentleman raised was a matter for me. The point of order that he raised with the Chair was whether any Minister had asked to make a statement. The answer to that is no. That was a direct matter for me but, the other matters which the hon. Gentleman raises are for those on the Front Bench, who no doubt have noted his comments, and not for me as Speaker.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received a request for a statement from the Secretary of State for Social Security about a conference on the Maxwell fund apparently to be held on Wednesday in Liechtenstein? I ask that question because I telephoned the Swiss embassy—it looks after that country's interests—to ask what is happening, and was told that such a conference is to take place in two days' time. I want to know from the Minister whether United Kingdom representatives will attend, bearing in mind that public money is now involved in trying to help the victims of that swindle. I have also been in touch with the pensioners who are affected—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman puts a point of order to me. He cannot put a question to a Minister through me. I have received no information from the Government that they seek to make a statement on the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This concerns a matter that I have raised with you before, and that you treated with your characteristic courtesy. This afternoon, during Question Time, we had to suffer lengthy replies from those on the Front Bench. I know that you have commented before about these overlong answers to Back Benchers' questions. Could you impress upon those on the Treasury Bench the fact that many Back Benchers like to get in to ask questions, and that these overlong answers, these mini-statements, go down very badly with us?

Madam Speaker

I have already made a statement on that matter. Whether it is those on the Front Bench or those on the Back Bench, I think it is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Mr. Bennett.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I was not actually going to raise a point of order.

Madam Speaker

In that case, it was my mistake. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. If I heard you properly, you said that, as far as you were aware, no Minister had asked to make a statement about that crook Maxwell and the fact that the Government knew of some of his activities years ago, through GCHQ? Can we get this matter resolved? If the Government do not want to make a statement, which is scandalous, has anybody asked that a statement be made? If nobody has yet made that request, I am doing so now.

Madam Speaker

I have already made a decision on that matter, and those who have been interested and involved in it know the decision that I have made.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last week, I raised with you a point of order about the work of the Select Committee on Social Security looking into the Maxwell affair. You undertook, on behalf of the House, to get together those on the two Front Benches so as to ensure that the Select Committee meets at an early opportunity. Today, the Financial Times reported that the intelligence services had information on the sort of activities that our Select Committee could examine. It could also bring the Secretary of State before it at the earliest opportunity to see what part the Government played in keeping from the public gaze the intelligence information about Maxwell's fraudulent behaviour.

Madam Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman refers to the statement that I made last week, he will see that I have already made known my views on the establishment of the Select Committee. I shall leave it at that.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). During the investigations by the Select Committee on Social Security into the affairs of the Maxwell pension fund, the Government gave no evidence about any security information on Robert Maxwell that they might have had. If they withheld that information, what sanctions can be taken against the Ministers who were responsible for those Departments at that time?

Madam Speaker

I have already on one occasion made it clear that that is not the type of advice that I am prepared to give across the Floor of the House.