Skip to main content

Defence Sub-Committee

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I wish to make a brief statement. Yesterday the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) raised a point of order about an article that had appeared in The Guardian relating to the staffing of the Select Committee on Defence. I undertook to look into the matter and to make a statement to the House.

The allocation of duties to particular Clerks is determined by the Clerk of the House and no one else. The article in The Guardian confuses two different bodies—the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, which became defunct in April 1979, and the Select Committee on Defence, which was nominated in the following November. Some of the matters in the article related to the Sub-Committee and some to the Committee.

I have been assured by the Clerk of the House that there is no correspondence or any indication of any pressure from the Government to have Mr. Cooper removed. To set the factual record straight, the Clerk of the House has asked me to say that so far from being dismissed from his post, Mr. Cooper continued to serve the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee until the Dissolution of Parliament in April 1979. That Committee, with its Sub-Committees, was not set up again in the new Parliament and in the new structure of Committees that now exists Mr. Cooper occupies a position that is in no way inferior to that which he held in the old structure. Indeed, so far from being demoted, he was promoted last October to the rank of Senior Clerk.

I am very grateful, Mr. Speaker, for your having looked into the matter arising from the press article. Can we take it from your statement that no kind of representations were made by senior officials at the Ministry of Defence regarding the Clerk in question?

I have prepared this statement carefully, and I believe that the independence of this House from the Executive is central to our parliamentary democracy. That was why I undertook so readily to look into this matter. I have looked into it, and I have been given complete assurances by the Clerk of the House that there was no pressure. The House should accept that statement.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

I express our gratitude for your prompt action on this matter, Mr. Speaker. It is a matter of major constitutional importance and we are very grateful to you for having cleared it up.

Order. I will take the three points of order that appear to be in train in a moment. Then I hope that we can leave the matter.

May I join with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in expressing our thanks to you, Mr. Speaker, for your investigation of what was alleged to concen the independence and intregrity of this House, of which you are the guardian? In the circumstances where an aspersion has been made on the Clerk of the House, who has served us all so well, should not the innuendos made against him be now totally withdrawn?

We shall see what happens tomorrow when we read the newspaper. That is not something that is within my control.

We are all grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, especially for your most recent words. The accusation was not made against the present Clerk of the House, nor does anyone imagine that the present Clerk of the House would have acted in the way in which it was said that a previous Clerk had acted. Mr. Cooper is one of the most intelligent of a group of very intelligent men who serve this House, and I hope that it is made quite clear that in no way has his career been injured by these events.

I say at once that the former Clerk of the House had our full respect and trust in exactly the same way as the present Clerk of the House. The House has been given the assurance that the Clerk in question has been promoted, and that is an indication that his career has not suffered.

The Clerk in question is a military historian. He was dealing with his own subject. He has now been removed from it, and I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that there was in fact a demotion of this man.

It would be a sorry day if hon. Members or I myself sought to put pressure on the Clerk of the House about the way in which his Clerks should be assigned to their Committees. We have been faithfully served, and I believe that we should leave the present system as it is.