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London Docklands (Report)

Volume 83: debated on Tuesday 23 July 1985

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4.33 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise with you, Mr. Speaker, a question which is similar to others which have been raised on this subject in the past? That is, the prior release outside the House of a document which should first come to the House.

Yesterday morning there was an announcement at a press conference held by the London Docklands development corporation of its annual report, which was then presented to the press and public. Four Members of the House represent constituencies covered by the area of the corporation. As you will know, Mr. Speaker, the chain of accountability is through the Secretary of State to the House. As far as I have been able to ascertain, none of the four Members of Parliament was notified in advance or had received—or, indeed, until now, has received—copies of that annual report. Indeed, the first notification which anybody in the House could have had is that there was laid on the Table of the House—and it is recorded in the Vote today—a copy of the annual report dated yesterday, although not obtainable in, and not delivered to, the Library of the House until this afternoon.

The issue raised is the manner in which the Secretary of State for the Environment or his Under-Secretary of State charged with responsibility for these matters is properly fulfilling his duty of prior and primary accountability to the House when a corporation, solely accountable to the House through the Secretary of State, acts to present its information and report outside the House before it comes to the House.

I ask, Mr. Speaker, whatever ruling you may be able immediately to give, that the matter be taken into account by the Leader of the House, who is in his place, and passed on to the relevant Ministers and Secretary of State in the Department, and that yet again you seek to protect the interests of Members of the House by confirming that documents should come first to the House before they go to the press and to other members of the public.

Further to the point of order. As another Member from the docklands area, may I say that I find this matter particularly disturbing because the London Docklands development corporation is under an obligation to make an annual report to the Minister, and that is the only way in which its actions and activities are made accountable and known to Members of Parliament.

There has been a flagrant breach, in that a press conference was held even before the document was deposited in the House of Commons. I realize, Mr. Speaker, that your own direct duties, rights and capacities in this matter are limited, but I hope that you will take this opportunity to make known your displeasure at this flagrant breach of convention and good manners.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps at this time, it would be appropriate for you, or somebody, to point out that, whenever we get these complaints about leaked. documents, which have happened in the course of the 15 years for which I have been a Member of Parliament, if television is allowed into this place, the leaking of documents and all other matters similar to the one that has been raised——

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is on a very good point. This is not a leaked document, as I understand it. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who raised the point, well know my strong views on these matters, and I will certainly let them be known in the right quarter.