HC Deb 25 February 1999 vol 326 cc539-40 12.30 pm
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On Monday afternoon, you were gracious enough to allow the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House on the leak of the Stephen Lawrence report. At the end of the statement, the Home Secretary said: The whole report will be published in full to Parliament on Wednesday, as planned; but it was and remains plainly contrary to the public interest for there to be selective and premature disclosure of a judicial inquiry."—[Official Report, 22 February 1999; Vol. 326, c. 23.] I entirely endorse those sentiments—as I believe that you do, too.

The Home Secretary published the report yesterday. Again, you were gracious enough to allow him to make a statement to the House. The report and the appendices were then made available to Members of Parliament and to the press. A copy of the appendices currently resides in the Library.

About an hour ago, I went to the Vote Office to request a further copy of the report and the appendices. I was astonished to discover that, early this morning, the Home Office had given instructions that the appendices should be withdrawn.

I went to the Library to inquire whether any reasons for the withdrawal had been given. The Library, with its usual efficiency, established for me that, apparently, the appendices had been withdrawn, on the Home Secretary's instructions, because they contained confidential information that should not have been published.

It would appear that the Home Secretary may have permitted to be published, and to be placed in the public domain, material that could prejudice a re-trial of those believed to be guilty. If that is so, it is a very serious matter indeed and calls into question the Home Secretary's position.

Has the Home Secretary indicated to you that he wishes to come to the House to make a statement, to say why he withdrew that document this morning, without notice to the House?

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I have only just heard about the issue—which is a very important one, as the appendices and the information in them have been heavily reported in the media. To put the matter at its mildest, if the document has been withdrawn for a reason, the House and also the media will need some indication of why that has been done and which parts of the appendices have been withdrawn.

Much of the information is already in the public domain, and much of it is germane to the debate itself. Many hon. Members will speak in the continuing debate on the Lawrence report on the basis of the information given. We need urgent guidance from the Home Office on exactly what is happening, and on why the document has been withdrawn.

Madam Speaker

I understand that volume II of the Lawrence report, which contains the appendices, has been withdrawn from the Vote Office. My understanding—I have not made direct inquiries because, as I am sure the House will appreciate, I have not had the opportunity to do so—is that the volume was withdrawn because it contained some inaccuracies, but is to be replaced very soon.

As the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) will be aware, the report is the responsibility of the Department. I trust that the Department will ensure that the replacement is made available as soon as possible. The House can be certain that, as soon as I leave the Chair, I shall use my best endeavours to ensure that that is done.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The brutal gunning down and murder of the Ayatollah Muhammad al-Sadr in Najaf last week is roughly the middle eastern equivalent of the murder of Thomas à Becket, and is creating great difficulties in not only Iraq but the whole Shi'ite world. It has been widely said in the Arab press that that act was not the responsibility of the Iraqi regime, whose interests would hardly be served by such a public murder, but has to do with opposition groups financed by the west. That is what is being said, rightly or wrongly. Have you had any request from the Foreign Office to make a statement in response to what is so widely thought and believed, rightly or wrongly, in the Arab world?

Madam Speaker

I am not aware that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is seeking to make a statement today.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I had hoped to bring to the notice of the Leader of the House a serious breach of clause 79 of the ministerial code of conduct, which relates to the long-standing tradition of the House that Ministers should inform Back Benchers whose constituency they are going to visit. The right hon. Lady visited my constituency last Tuesday, but the first notice that I had was an article in the Malmesbury Standard. By coincidence, on the same day the right hon. Lady answered a parliamentary question from me listing the constituencies that she had recently visited and failing to list mine. Would it be appropriate for you to remind Ministers about that important clause?

Madam Speaker

I had hoped that we were sufficiently far into this Parliament for all hon. Members to be able to resolve such matters between themselves and not raise the issue in the House. I expect all Members of Parliament, including Ministers, to have the courtesy to inform others when they visit their constituencies.

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