§ Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall get it right this time. I raise what I consider to be a most serious matter affecting a Select Committee of the House and the House as a whole. I ask that you report my remarks to Madam Speaker and ask whether she will look into the matter.
A Committee's papers are very much held by it and are not published until it decides that they should be. Today, a letter to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs was referred to on the Floor of the House, not only before the Committee had knowledge of it, but before the Chairman had received it or even knew about it. That most unusual situation was made more unusual by the fact that a copy was in the hands of the BBC at No. 4 Millbank. In addition, one learned at the BBC that a communication made by the Minister of State about the matter, of which no member of the Committee and no hon. Member knew anything, had also been sent to the BBC.
This is a serious matter, because it affects the reputation of a Minister of State and evidence that was given to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs this morning, which is partially but not entirely contradicted by the letter of Sir John Kerr. Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, please ask Madam Speaker whether she will look into the matter? The way to clarify the situation, as has been suggested, is to produce the briefing given by the Foreign Office to the Minister in question.
I realise that this is partially a Committee matter, but it is serious: it affects the House because the breach took place on the Floor of the House. Madam Speaker should look into it.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In answer to me at business questions, the Leader of the House referred to the letter in a manner that implied that I might have seen it. She said that she did not know whether I had seen it. I would not for a minute accuse the Leader of the House of saying or doing anything improper, but I could not have seen the letter, unless I was a BBC employee perhaps.
This is most unfortunate, and I should be most grateful if you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, reported the circumstances to Madam Speaker and asked her to consider the tone and content of the letter. It refers to Sir John Kerr checking his memory. One would have hoped that he would have done that before appearing.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying far from anything that is the responsibility of Madam Speaker.
I shall reply to the point of order from the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), who, in essence, supplied the answer to the point of order made by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), although I allowed the hon. Gentleman fully to state it for the record. The communication was to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, so it is for the Chairman and the Select Committee to determine what should happen to the document. Any other reference to that is not a matter for the Chair; a reference by any other 565 right hon. Member or hon. Member is a matter for debate and question in the House. If I opine correctly about the subject matter, there is to be a debate on it on Monday.
§ Sir Peter Emery
Further to my point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course you were right about the powers of the Committee—no one would challenge that—but my point is that the Committee has not had the opportunity to make any decision.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, must know, with proper regard to its rights, that he must next raise the matter in that forum. It cannot be for me to deal with from the Chair.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point that came up this afternoon was different: the Leader of the House was purporting to offer in evidence a letter, without giving the House the opportunity to see it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have dealt with that point. Anything that is raised by a right hon. or hon. Member is a matter for debate and question in the House, not a point of order for the Chair.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
I am extremely grateful for what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I merely ask whether you would be kind enough to refer the exchanges to Madam Speaker.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have ruled that both the points that I have identified are not matters for the Chair and therefore, by definition, not matters for Madam Speaker. They are, however, on the record for everyone to read.