Motion made, and Question proposed,
That if shall appear that any person hath been tampering with any Witness, in respect of his evidence to be given to this House, or any Committee thereof, or directly or indirectly hath endeavoured to deter or hinder any person from appearing or giving evidence the same is declared to be a high crime and misdemeanour; and this House will proceed with the utmost severity against such offender.
That if it shall appear that any person hath given false evidence in any case before this House, or any Committee thereof, this House will proceed with the utmost severity against such offender.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
Over many years, the House has passed this order, which relates to tampering with witnesses appearing before the House and Select Committees. However, when such tampering has occurred nothing has been done about it. It is not unknown for people to lose their jobs because they have given evidence to a Select Committee, yet when the matter has been raised in the House nothing has been done about it.
I wish briefly to draw your attention, Madam Speaker, to the report by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry on project Babylon—the sale of a supergun to Iraq. It is worth pointing out that the Committee was told by several witnesses that it would not be allowed to investigate, interrogate or question members of the secret services—MI5 and MI6.
The House will note that the order is not qualified. If the Government want to exclude members of the secret services from scrutiny by Committees of this House, they should table a motion to that effect. They have not done so. When the House passes this order, if a Select Committee wishes to interrogate members of the secret services who were up to their necks in the export of weaponry to Iraq, it will have the right to do so. No witness should be able to determine what a Select Committee can do. No Ministers should intimidate witnesses or say that they should not appear.
The Attorney-General, who is present today, is well aware of the problem. When Customs and Excise representatives were asked to give evidence to a Select Committee, they went first to the Attorney-General and then to the Leader of the House. They entered into a collusive arrangement not to give the full information. That was in breach of this order.
We must make it clear that, when Government Members nod their heads to this order, it will provide protection for people giving evidence—whether they are members of the Government, of the secret services, of special branch, or whatever. Such witnesses will have the protection of this order, and the Government had better take note of that.
§ Question put and agreed to.