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State Security

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 9 December 1987

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4.18 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I refer to question No. 16, on the Zircon affair. I contend that it was an orderly question, otherwise the Table Office would not have allowed it. There was no attempt by Ministers to transfer it. Indeed, on the rota, the Secretary of State answers on behalf of the Lord Advocate. It will be within your recollection, Mr. Speaker, that I asked a careful and orderly supplementary question which, incidentally, I discussed with Professor Anthony Bradley, professor of constitutional law, and Professor Robert Black, professor of Scots law, at the university of Edinburgh. I think that the supplementary question was equally in order. Therefore, how can the Minister answering say that it was not within his sphere of responsibility? In whose sphere of responsibility would it be?

I am not responsible for answers in this place, provided they are in order. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has made a pertinent point and his best course is to take up the matter with the Minister concerned.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I recognise your difficulties, but I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). There is no Law Officer in the Houseā€”I make no complaint about that; it is the chance of electoral fortune. It was specifically arranged that the Secretary of State would answer for the Lord Advocate. When a direct and proper question is put, it is an abuse to say that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, who speaks for his lord and master, is not responsible for answering for the Lord Advocate's actions. He must be responsible. The matter must be satisfactorily resolved.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. At no time was there any suggestion that the question originally tabled by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was not an appropriate or proper question. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State correctly pointed out that the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question drew attention to matters that were not the responsibility of myself as Secretary of State for Scotland or of the Lord Advocate, and he therefore properly declined to comment on it.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. If what the Secretary of State says is right, the matter can be the responsibility, as I have suspected for many weeks, only of the Prime Minister and Mr. Ingham. They were the only people who could then take responsibility for the Zircon affair and for what happened in the raid on the BBC in Glasgow, when executives were thrown out of their beds at 3 o'clock on a Sunday morning. We all know now that no charge of substance has been laid. This is a great attack on liberty by the Government. If the Lord Advocate and the Secretary of State for Scotland are not responsible, the Prime Minister must be.

I am sure that the hon. Member does not expect me to adjudicate on such matters. One point about which I am totally clear is that this is not my responsibility.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I raise a serious point. The supplementary question was specifically about the criteria applied by the Lord Advocate in making an important and controversial decision. It must be right that the House can question the Lord Advocate's actions. If you cannot help us as to who is responsible, perhaps you can help by advising us of the proper machinery, because the Government seem reluctant to answer these questions.

The best way out of the problem would be to direct this to the Government Front Bench which will have time to consider it, before business questions tomorrow.