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Parliamentary Papers

Volume 113: debated on Tuesday 26 May 1987

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3.59 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to discuss the status of documents made available to the House.

During the Budget debate, a document, entitled "Explanatory Memorandum on European Community Documents" was placed upon the Table, along with the document itself. The document itself was endorsed and specifically signed by the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry. The explanatory memorandum which accompanied it was endorsed and explicitly signed by the Minister of State, Treasury.

The main document contained the words that I quoted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer earlier today. He replied that no so such document existed—or that no such document had been endorsed by the Government.

The House is put in an intolerable position—as are you, Mr. Speaker —if documents submitted by the Government appear on the Table and then, when hon. Gentlemen quote from them, senior members of the Government deny that such documents exist. I need your ruling, Mr. Speaker, either today or at your convenience, on how hon. Members can protect themselves against denials by the Government of the existence of opinions and documents that they have endorsed and submitted through you to the House.

It seems that the Chancellor was correct in laying the document on the Table. My recollection is that he referred to a letter, but it is not for me to become involved. The Chief Whip will have heard the remarks of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), and I am sure that they will be taken up.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Government to give copies of their White Paper on legal aid to the press but not to make copies available to right hon. and hon. Members?

That problem is often raised with me, and I repeat what I always say—that if copies of Government papers are given to the press, presumably embargoed, hon. Members should be informed at the same time.