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British Leyland (Newspaper Report)

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

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I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the action of the Daily Mail in publishing a letter purporting to implicate the Secretary of State for Industry and the National Enterprise Board in allegations of bribery by British Leyland."
I make this application quite deliberately on the day after the matter was raised by another hon. Member because of additional information about the urgency of this matter. I also want to bring into consideration the argument of the intentions of those who frame our rules concerning concurrent developments in other places.

First of all, the main burden of my argument is that great damage has been done and is currently being done to the standing of Great Britain as an exporting nation. I know, of course, Mr. Speaker, as you know, that I must not now produce the evidence that I intend to produce if a debate on the Adjournment were to be granted. I must not now submit to the House the actual proof of the contention that I have just made.

Suffice it to say at this stage that 1 was first made aware of the allegation through a foreign broadcast in a major industrial country on the Continent of Europe on the eve of its first publication in the Daily Mail. Before the people of this country had seen the article in the Daily Mail, there had already been a categorical report on the North-West German radio service the previous night making the allegation that was started here in the Daily Mail.

Since then there is a great deal of evidence from abroad that the position of the Secretary of State for Industry, particularly, continues to be impugned, and there are articles published and black question marks. We know that certain denials have been made, but is the Secretary of State really not involved?

That is my first and more important argument—that the position of this country is being gravely damaged.

Secondly, on other concurrent developments—which, of course, I shall not discuss at all—as I have always understood the Standing Order, it is to prevent an atmosphere of prejudice arising concerning the interests of any citizen who may be involved in any criminal proceedings in court; hence the decision of the House, under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on such occasions to refrain from having a discussion.

However, what we are facing here, with the necessary delays of the law—which are equally required to protect the interests of the same person against whom a crime may be alleged—is the fact that this will take time. During all that period of time the slur over the head of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry remains in the mistaken view of a good many people. I submit that it cannot have been the intention of those who framed the rule and those of your predecessors who applied it, Mr. Speaker, that we should allow no discussion whatsoever to clear the position of an innocent man—a Minister in this case—against whom no allegations are being made, because we are all in agreement that no atmosphere must be created against someone against whom a crime has been alleged.

The consequence of this rule would be for the House to seek to debate matters not directly concerned with the indictment that may have taken place, cautiously and in such a way that the position of the country can be fully defended, at home and in respect of international opinion, very often in countries competing with us in the export markets. I say in passing that when allegations were recently made about Lockheed and other scandals with great political consequences it was a matter of congratulation for all of us that British Ministers were not involved. The eagerness of some of the international organs of the Press to put question marks after the name of the Secretary of State for Industry may be explained in part by their original disappointment that British Ministers were not involved in those other scandals. Secondly, if many months were to pass, it would be most unfair and most unjust that the House should not have an opportunity, whilst the matter is urgent, to put it before the people who sent us here.

It is on those grounds that I am saying, first, that a debate in the autumn might be obtained with difficulty and, secondly, that the Standing Order—this is my last point in this submission—is designed to allow a speedy and urgent discussion of a matter that is in the public mind. This matter is now more in the public mind than any other issue. Whatever we decide now in application of the rules here, we should remember that the nation is discussing this issue and that it would surely be absurd for the nation to be discussing it whilst its central political forum is not allowed to do so.

The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) did me the courtesy of giving me notice this morning that he proposed to seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the action of the Daily Mail in publishing a letter purporting to implicate the Secretary of State for Industry and the National Enterprise Board in allegations of bribery by British Leyland."
As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order, but to give no reasons for my decision. I remind the House, again, that I am not deciding whether this matter shall be debated. That is not my decision. That responsibility lies elsewhere. I am deciding only whether it should be debated tonight or tomorrow. I do not control the order of business in the House.

I have given careful consideration to the matters which the hon. Member has raised. I have, however, to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order, and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.