§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they have taken any steps to obtain the consent of persons named in the inspector's report into allegations of insider dealing concerning shares in Anglia Television to the publication of the report, and what is the current position regarding that report.
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, no such approach 711 has been made. Reports are prepared on the basis that they will not be published in order to enable the Secretary of State to consider possible criminal proceedings. Consistent with the inspectors' conclusions and the advice of counsel, my right honourable friend has decided that no further action should be taken.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the extraordinary inconsistency in the Government's actions in relation to this matter? Is it not right that they named the noble Lord, Lord Archer, when they should not have done; made allegations about Anglia Television having been the source of the leak, which was untrue and the Government withdrew the allegation; and then made allegations about a cover-up, which necessitated their releasing the name of the noble Lord, Lord Archer, in circumstances in which they should not have done so? Are they not now colluding in the whole question of a cover-up by making no efforts to obtain the consent of a man who says that he has been exonerated in the report when there is provision in the Financial Services Act to enable reports to be published if such consent is forthcoming?
My Lords, there is no inconsistency of approach whatever. The name referred to was made public because it was already in the hands of the newspapers. A direct question was asked of my department and a direct answer was given. There is no collusion at all. The whole purpose of an inspector's report is that it should be confidential and there is no legal authority to publish it. Despite what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, it would be contrary to the assurance which was given by a Minister in the House that this should be made public. The report contains far more than just the information which was provided to the inspectors. The whole nature of the report is that it should be confidential and provide confidential advice to my right honourable friend.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, is there not an important constitutional issue at stake? Am I not right in believing that these inspectors' reports are an exception to the general rule of the right of silence of a person who is under investigation? If the result of an inquiry is that no case exists, would it not be a serious breach of the rights of the individual to publish a report which extracted from him information under threat of criminal proceedings if he did not give it?
My Lords, my noble and learned friend is right. The whole basis of these reports is that they should be confidential so that information is provided in full. If it were known that the information provided was to be made open to the public it might be a good deal more restricted than would otherwise be the case. The Department of Trade is the appropriate prosecuting authority for these cases. My right honourable friend was satisfied on the basis of independent advice, which is confidential, that it would not be appropriate to prosecute.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that under the Financial Services Act there is power for a report to be published if the individual concerned requests it? If that is right, will the Minister further help 712 the House by saying who is anxious to preserve the confidentiality of this particular report: is it the individual concerned, who says that it would exonerate him, or the Government? If it is the Government, what conceivable reason do they have for so doing?
My Lords, the reason is that when inspectors are invited to make a report they gather a great deal of information from different people, draw conclusions and make recommendations. Those matters are specific to my right honourable friend and it is up to him to decide. That decision is taken only after he has received independent advice.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, is the Minister telling the House, therefore, that even if the individual concerned—that is the noble Lord, Lord Archer—were to make a request for the report to be published the Government would refuse to do so on the grounds of preserving the inspector's confidentiality or some other confidentiality, the nature of which escapes me?
My Lords, it is one thing for my noble friend to ask my right honourable friend for the report to be published. The fact is that my right honourable friend would have to decide whether to publish a report which contained a great deal more than facts; it would include the inspector's opinions. I refer the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition to what was said when the Bill was being considered in this House. The Minister said that as regards Clause 147, which is now Section 177, the inspector's task would be to establish facts of a straightforward kind and not to pass judgment and that his report would not be published.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, without wishing to become involved in a detailed argument at this time, is the noble Earl aware that many of us on this side of the House are fully satisfied with the way in which this matter has been handled by the Government and with the answers given by my noble friend the Minister in the House?
My Lords, I am quite sure that my noble friend is right and I am grateful to him for what he has said.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, has the noble Lord, Lord Archer, made any requests for publication of the report? What is the essential difference between the publication of inspectors' reports in company investigations, in which there is a presumption in favour of publication, and this situation? Is there not an almost exact parallel? If the Government continue to insist on that absurd argument, is it not time that the law was changed?
My Lords, perhaps I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is wrong, Section 432 of the Companies Act 1985 expressly confers a power to publish when investigating companies' affairs; Section 177 of the Financial Services Act does not.