HL Deb 18 July 1972 vol 333 cc695-8

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I understand that it is for the convenience of the House that I should now, by leave of the House, repeat the further Statement which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will by now have made in another place on matters arising out of the public examination in bankruptcy of Mr. John Poulson. After the formal introduction, the Statement is as follows:

" My right honourable and learned friend the Attorney General has this afternoon issued the following statement:

' The Inspector General in Bankruptcy has forwarded to the Attorney General, the Lord Advocate, and the Director of Public Prosecutions the Official Receiver's Preliminary Report of his investigations into the conduct and affairs of Mr. J. G. L. Poulson. After consultation with the Attorney General and the Lord Advocate, the Director has requested the Metropolitan Police to conduct an investigation and to report to him.'

" The police investigation will enable the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether there are grounds for instituting any criminal proceedings.

" In these circumstances it would clearly be wrong for the Government to establish any other form of inquiry, at least until the outcome of the police investigation is available and a decision has been made upon any prosecution.

" In addition to the thorough inquiries which the police will now undertake, the Department of Trade and Industry will be able to use its investigatory powers under the Companies Acts.

" Mr. W. G. Pottinger, Secretary of the Department for Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, is being suspended from duty for the time being. I understand that Mr. E. G. Braithwaite, Secretary of the South West Metropolitan Hospital Board, is also being suspended.

" In this connection there is one other matter of which I should inform the House. I have received a letter from my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who has asked me to read the following extract from it to the House:

' We discussed the assertions made by Mr. Poulson during his bankruptcy hearing. Among them there was one referring to myself, to the effect that before I accepted his invitation to become Chairman of an export company, for which post I took no remuneration, he had made a covenant in favour of a charitable appeal which had my support. I do not regard this as matter either for criticism or for investigation. However, there are matters not relating to me that do require investigation, and I entirely agree that this should be carried out in the normal way on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The difficulty arises that the task must fall upon the Metropolitan Police, and in my particular office as Home Secretary I am Police Authority for the Metropolis. We agreed that it would not be appropriate for me to continue to hold this office while the investigations are being pursued, in view of the fact that my name has been mentioned at the Hearing.

" You were good enough to suggest that I might for the time being hold some other office in your Government, but this I do not wish to accept. For more than twenty years now I have held office continuously, as a Minister, or a member of the Shadow Cabinet. I think I can reasonably claim a respite from the burdens of responsibility and from the glare of publicity which, inevitably, surrounds a Minister and, inexcusably, engulfs the private lives even of his family.'

" I have replied to my right honourable friend that, though I understand and respect the reasons for his decision to leave the Government, it is only with the greatest reluctance that I have accepted it.

" I believe that right honourable and honourable Members on both sides of the House will share not only my deep regret at his going now but also my hope that it will not be long before he is able to resume his position in the public life of this country.

" The Queen has been pleased to approve the appointment of my right honourable friend the Lord President to be Home Secretary. He will hold this office in conjunction with the office of Lord President and Leader of the House."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement, which contains some very grave information. It appears to me, not having had any foreknowledge of what was in the Statement, that it would not be appropriate, when the police are about to carry out investigations, to comment on the main issues. Although it might be tempting to do so, this would seem to me inconsistent with the desirability of preserving complete impartiality in the pursuit of justice. We have noted also that two senior civil servants have been suspended, and no doubt the same restraint is necessary with regard to comment on their position. I have no doubt that this matter has been very carefully considered, and that in the suspension their position at law is not in any way prejudiced. Finally on this aspect, it is also clear that when the inquiries, and any proceedings which may or may not emerge from them, are complete, Parliament may wish itself to seek further information and that there may be a need for further inquiries. I have no criticism to make, therefore, of the action which has been taken on the advice of the Law Officers. But, my Lords, I should like to say in regard to Mr. Maudling that I feel that the news given in this Statement will be a source of regret. He is a man who has given great public service and, I think, has a capacity to give further public service ; but bearing in mind that his letter was almost equivalent to a personal statement, and therefore not normally debatable, again at this moment I would say nothing beyond expressing sympathy to Mr. Maudling, and indeed to Mrs. Maudling.


My Lords, I should like to follow exactly and precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said. We appreciate very much indeed the action which Mr. Maudling has taken: it is characteristic. On personal grounds, however, I regret very much indeed that it has taken place, and I hope that his absence from the Government will be temporary.


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for what they have said, and I can only endorse their attitude. I am sure that the generous words which have fallen from each of them will give some comfort to my right honourable friend.


My Lords, there is one further point that I should like to make, which I thought was inappropriate in my opening remarks. I understand that the news of Mr. Maudling's impending resignation has appeared on the tape. This may have been just intelligent speculation, but seeing that great and, I would say, admirable security has been maintained in this matter I think it is for consideration whether some investigation is necessary as to whether or not a leak has taken place.


My Lords, I will pass on what the noble Lord has said. I do not think I can say more than that about it.