HC Deb 16 June 1994 vol 244 cc765-6

4.2 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you would consider helping the Scots. As you know, every third Monday, the Attorney-General answers questions in the House. Alas, the Lord Advocate representing the Crown Office has no opportunity to do so.

I understand that the Chair is involved in discussions about how the Lord Advocate can report directly to the House of Commons. This afternoon, we had an example of that when I asked the Leader of the House a question about Lockerbie, which, after all, was the biggest crime against civilians in the western world since 1945. The Lord Advocate has been making dismissive statements about a proper investigation of extraordinary statements that have been made in middle east courts. I do not know whether those statements are valid, but some of us want to know what the Government intend to do to ascertain whether what is going on in the Beirut courts, with individuals claiming responsibility for the crime, will be properly investigated. The only way in which we could do that is to ask the Lord Advocate questions either upstairs in some Scottish Grand Committee procedure or if he could come to some other Committee established by Parliament.

As I understand it, there are discussions taking place, but they have been going on for some time on that matter and I wondered whether they were going to be brought to a head.

Madam Speaker

I understand the hon. Gentleman's deep concern about this matter, but it is not a question at this stage for the Chair. It is something that the House itself must deal with. As he will know, the Leader of the House is on the Government Front Bench and will no doubt have heard his comments. Perhaps he can make some inquiries into those matters on behalf of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I ask you whether you consider, in your role as the protector of the rights of Back-Bench Members of Parliament and protector of the rights of the House, that you might inquire into the matter of a question that I asked the Secretary of State for Wales, who is in his place? I received an answer on 12 May concerning irregular payments made by the Welsh Development Agency to its staff throughout the 1980s.

A report appeared in a newspaper this morning that went into details about those irregular payments, and the new management of the WDA claimed the credit for initiating that investigation. I have had no answer from the Secretary of State. I wonder whether you could approach the office of the Secretary of State and ask him to put right that matter and make some type of statement to the House.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. That is disturbing to the Welsh affairs shadow Front Bench as well, because, in spite of the long period of notice that was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) in writing to the Secretary of State six weeks ago and the thundering silence from the Welsh Office, it appears now that the device of the quango concerned itself issuing the information in the Daily Post for publication this morning is being used to throw Members of Parliament off the scent, and that Secretaries of State, who are responsible to the House even for the acts of their predecessors, are simply not prepared to abide by that accountability of which I believe that you, Madam Speaker, are the protector.

Madam Speaker

I obviously cannot concern myself with newspaper reports, but I am concerned if the hon. Gentleman has not had a response to the question that he has placed on the Order Paper. I place prime importance on the procedures whereby individual Members receive proper responses when they place questions, and that statements are made in the House before they are given to newspapers.

The Secretary of State for Wales is on the Front Bench and no doubt he will now deal directly with the matter as far as he is free and able to do so.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood)

indicated assent.

Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Further to a parliamentary written reply that I received from the Secretary of State for the Environment, have you had any indication that he wishes to come to the House to make a statement about his reply to me to say that he, along with the Secretary of State for Social Security, instructed parliamentary counsel to draft amendments to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and for those amendments to be given to private Members? Have you had any indication that he will be coming to the House to make a statement about that disgraceful business?

Madam Speaker

I have had no such indication. I understand that the hon. Lady has written to me, but I have not as yet even seen her letter. Perhaps I can deal with it when I have seen her letter.