Skip to main content

Select Committee On Foreign Affairs

Volume 83: debated on Monday 22 July 1985

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

4.17 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Circumstances have come to your notice through a letter, which may or may not have reached you, which was written at 1.30 pm. I understand that the majority report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs was laid before the House this weekend and that it contains strong criticism of my behaviour. It implies serious steps relating to alleged defiance of the House of Commons; an alleged defiance of the wishes of the Committee.

It appears to me to be contrary to the traditions of the House and the relations between hon. Members for a Select Committee to criticise an hon. Member without asking that hon. Member either for a written explanation or providing him with the opportunity to give evidence before the Committee. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker: is it proper for a Select Committee of the House to make such charges, for such they appear to be, against a Member of this House, under pages 704 and 705 of "Erskine May", without even having asked that Member for an explanation, let alone having asked him to appear as a witness?

There was no leak until Ministers, for their own reasons which it would be improper to go into on this occasion, decided to charge Clive Ponting under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 and send him to the Old Bailey and to make public announcements, on a Saturday in August 1984, to that effect. I ask, very gently, whether we are in the position now of having kangaroo courts in the House of Commons.

This point of order is about the right of hon. Members to be heard before they are rebuked by a major report of a Select Committee. There are two sides to this story, and before the report was issued my side ought to have been heard. Nearly 20 years ago I was hauled before a senior Committee of the House on the subject of chemical and biological weapons and was reprimanded. Many people have doubted the justice of what happened then. On this occasion, I say to you, Mr. Speaker, and to my colleagues, that I behaved properly and that it was Ministers who opened the Pandora's Box which led to the Ponting trial. May I ask you to rule on this matter when the papers become available to you?

I say straightaway to the hon. Gentleman that the whole House will agree that no one here would doubt his honour. As to the matter that he raised, which is a serious one, the report has not yet been published. I have received the hon. Gentleman's letter, which enabled me to look into the matter, and I draw attention to the front page of the report from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which says:

"This Document is issued in advance on the strict understanding that no approach is made to any organisation or person about its contents before the time of publication."
Therefore, I have had no opportunity of seeing what the hon. Gentleman alleges and nor, I think, has any other hon. Member.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Somehow or other, by some alchemy, it has become the talk of the place. Certainly, the Chairman of the Select Committee did not consult me about it. When I arrived from Edinburgh this morning I was confronted by these questions, which I was supposed to answer.

I have the greatest sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot rule on the matter today. We must return to it on Wednesday, when the report is published.