HC Deb 26 June 1995 vol 262 cc560-1
28. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Attorney-General what further approaches he has received from Lord Justice Scott. [28732]

The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

It is the intention of the inquiry that any exchanges with individual witnesses should be confidential. That is to be respected.

Mr. Winnick

Although we are not given fuller information from the Attorney-General, is it not deplorable that that distinguished judge is being rubbished by the Government machinery, by people who accuse him of not understanding the realities of ministerial life? Is not it unfortunate that Lord Justice Scott is being caught up in the Tory civil war?

The Attorney-General

Neither the hon. Gentleman nor the House is getting any misleading information from me on that topic. If the hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to read my statement to the inquiry and tried to understand a little more carefully the subject, for example, of public interest immunity certificates, there would be rather less misleading material going around generally.

Mr. McLoughlin

Did my right hon. and learned Friend hear the comments of Lord Justice Scott following the leaking of the report by the BBC, when Lord Justice Scott said that the BBC had demeaned its status and reputation? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, if such a thing were said about members of the Government, Opposition Members would demand resignations? Should we not be looking for resignations from the BBC?

The Attorney-General

I well understand why Sir Richard Scott said what he did. The purpose of confidentiality is fairness. Deliberately to break a confidence when it is known to be likely to be unfair is demeaning to any aspect of the media.

Mr. John Morris

Will the Attorney-General confirm his intention, when he announced the Scott inquiry nearly 20 months ago, that it should be conducted as speedily as possible? The report's publication is a movable feast. What is the latest publication forecast? Will the Attorney-General confirm that no ministerial considerations, including the calling of a snap election, will inhibit the judge's sole discretion as to the date of publication?

While I deprecate the publication of leaks, will the Attorney-General confirm their accuracy, as apparently indicating the judge's prima facie views, before hearing any further submissions by criticised Ministers? Has the Attorney-General himself received part of the report, and has he responded?

The Attorney-General

The right hon. and learned Gentleman, uncharacteristically, obviously did not listen to my first answer. If he did, he, as much as anybody else, should respect the confidence requested by Sir Richard Scott. The date and timing of any publication of Sir Richard Scott's report is a matter for Sir Richard.