HC Deb 06 March 1996 vol 273 cc327-8
3. Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he plans to take following the publication of the Scott report to ensure that guidance in "Questions of Procedure for Ministers" is not breached. [17259]

Mr. Rifkind

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on 26 February.

Mr. Cunningham

If, as Scott has found, Ministers should have told Parliament the truth, have not the Government been treating the matter in a light-hearted manner and should not the Secretary of State apologise on behalf of his colleagues?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting what happened. I do not think that I can usefully add to the matters that were very fully debated in the House not very long ago.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I appreciate my right hon. and learned Friend's reply, but does he think that, in the light of the decision taken in principle by the Public Service Committee to look at "Questions of Procedure for Ministers" and the civil service code, following the Scott report's recommendations, his Department should wait on the Committee's recommendations?

Mr. Rifkind

We await with interest any recommendations of the Public Service Committee. It is worth remembering on behalf of those concerned with open government that the last Labour Government never thought of publishing "Questions of Procedure for Ministers". The Government published, and can therefore claim credit for it.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that paragraph 27 of "Questions of Procedure for Ministers" places an obligation on Ministers to tell the truth? Will he further confirm that Sir Richard Scott details not one, but seven occasions when his ministerial colleagues breached that duty? Will he condemn those colleagues, or do those constitutional guidelines also have a flexible application?

Mr. Rifkind

I believe that Ministers complied with "Questions of Procedure for Ministers", and I do not believe that untruths were told. The hon. Gentleman has no foundation for making such a suggestion.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Scott report teaches us that it is always dangerous for the Government to impose greater restrictions on British industry than are imposed by other Governments? Do not those restrictions make it more difficult for people to determine whether to allow a licence? In the light of the Scott report, will the Government bring this country into line with the rest of the world on the issue of restricting the sale of arms and non-lethal military equipment to other Governments, thereby allowing British companies to sell goods and services that they are currently prevented from selling—despite the fact that the goods can be bought from other western nations?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise that the Government showed more self-restraint on the sale of equipment to Iraq than almost any other western Government, but we have received little credit for that act of self-denial. Nevertheless, we will take policy decisions based on what we assess to be the right course of action. Although that may often coincide with what other Governments are doing, we will not feel bound to change our policy simply because other Governments have reached different conclusions.

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