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Blennerhassett Committee (Availability of Report)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th April 1976.

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Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield 12:00 am, 28th April 1976

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? The Blennerhassett Committee's Report on drinking and driving has been published today. A week or so ago, when the transport consultative document was published, we raised the question that it was made available both to the Press and to other interested bodies many hours before becoming available to hon. Members. The same thing has happened again with the Blennerhassett Report, with the added refinement that at 11.30 a.m. Mr. Blennerhassett held a Press conference at the headquarters of the Department of the Environment. It was, however, not possible for a Member of this House—I gather on the instructions of the Department—to get a copy of the report from the Vote Office until 12 o'clock, half an hour after the Press conference had begun.

This seems to me to be an extension of a situation which many of us on both sides of the House regard as already unsatisfactory, and the position seems to be that a newspaper correspondent has the opportunity not only of studying the report but also of asking questions on it before Members of this House. Because of the deplorable failure of the Government to make a statement in the House on the report today, we are not having an opportunity of questioning at at all.

It is not a satisfactory position for hon. Members that they should have fewer rights than either newspapers or other interested organisations. This is the second time this sort of thing has happened within a few weeks with reports emanating from the Department of the Environment, so may we have an assurance from the Leader of the House that he will examine the position, because I believe that it is regarded as unsatisfactory on both sides of the House?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Through no fault of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), I heard that he was raising this matter as a point of order in the House today only a minute or so before I came into the Chamber, so I do not know the full details. But, on the general point that he raised, I can say that we are inquiring into the question whether we could alter the practice, which has prevailed for many years, of supplying this kind of document to the Press before hon. Members. Whether we can alter it I do not konw, but we are looking at it to see whether there is the possibility of doing so. The matter raises considerable questions, and we shall make a statement to the House as soon as we have come to a conclusion.

As I have said, I have not all the details concerning the question raised by the hon. Gentleman. But I understand that the document was in the Vote Office at 11 o'clock and not at the time he stated, so I do not think that his criticism arises there. I understand that at an earlier date certain allegations were made, and that these are being investigated.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his state- ment and for his assurance that an investigation is taking place. We hope that such a statement will be made at the earliest opportunity.