Central Policy Review Staff (Report)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Battersea 12:00 am, 5th July 1983

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last Thursday at Question time, the Prime Minister, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), referred to the report of the Central Policy Review Staff — the Think Tank — which apparently mentioned disorder on Merseyside. However, the Prime Minister went on to mention some of the conclusions of the report. I submit that, according in "Erskine May", the Prime Minister is now under an obligation to lay that report on the Table. The most recent edition of "Erskine May" says on page 433: Similarly, it has been accepted that a document which has been cited by a Minister ought to be laid upon the Table of the House, if it can be done without injury to the public interests. I suggest that there would be no injury to the public interest if this report were laid upon the Table.

My last point is about the meaning of the word "cited", as used in "Erskine May". I looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary, and I am satisfied that the word has various meanings. One interpretation is the same as quoted, but other interpretations are quoted in the dictionary. For example, to adduce by way of example, proof, precedent, to call to mind and to mention". I submit that the Prime Minister did precisely that in referring to the report, and that she is therefore under an obligation to lay the report on the Table.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) for having given me notice of the point that he intended to raise.

The long-standing rule to which he has drawn the attention of the House applies only to direct quotation from a document. Where a Minister summarises but does not quote, there is no obligation to lay the document on the Table, and rulings to that effect, from 1905 onwards, are set out in footnote 10 on page 433 of "Erskine May". It did not occur to me at the time that the Prime Minister was making a direct quotation; nor does the passage in Hansard give that impression. Even were this not so, I remind the House of the ruling made by my predecessor on 22 December last at c. 969 in Hansard to the effect that any request for the tabling of a quoted document should be made on the day on which the quotation is made, or certainly on the following day.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We greatly appreciate the ruling that you have given in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, (Mr. Dubs). However, is it not so, on the question of timing, that the matter has been raised at a fairly early date? Is it not true that in some of the sited cases there has necessarily been some interval between the time when the purported quotation took place and when the requests were made for the matter to be published? Is it not also true, on the first part of your ruling, that the only person who knows for certain whether the report was quoted is the Prime Minister, that matter not being within the knowledge of the whole House? Can the matter be reserved until the Prime Minister herself can make a statement on the matter? Has not this rule been designed by the House to ensure that, in most cases when Ministers make statements relating to documents, the whole House shall have the chance to study the documents. Is this not an obvious case of where there was great inconvenience? It was a matter of convenience for the Prime Minister to quote the document. Surely, it is for the convenience of the House to have access to the document. If that is not the meaning of the rule, it is difficult to determine what it does mean.

I have two questions. First, I accept that you have ruled on the point that was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, but in the light of my representations, will you reconsider the matter and make a further statement tomorrow? Secondly, will the Prime Minister also consider the matter, because she must know whether or not she quoted from the document?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

As this is my first substantial point of order, I think the House will know that I went into it with immense care. I assure the Leader of the Opposition that I have nothing to add to what I have already said. Whether the Prime Minister wants to make a statement is not a matter for me, but I have nothing to add to what I have already said.