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Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 19th June 1995.

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Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher 6:41 pm, 19th June 1995

My hon. Friend has played a notable role in pushing for such inquiries into that matter. That is not the matter before the House this evening and I realise that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would stop my continuing on that subject. However, perhaps it does go to show that the desire for information to be made public is not always carried through in detail by Opposition Members in terms of their own affairs.

We have an important responsibility to try to find out more about what might have gone wrong. The Opposition are going from pillar to post in their reactions, and they seem less like seekers of truth and more like seekers of sensation. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said that he wanted the House to have a far more wide-ranging inquiry than anything that has been suggested today."—[Official Report, 13 June 1995; Vol. 261, c. 606.] The Chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee has rightly said that most of his colleagues would like to see a sharp inquiry—one that should not be allowed to drag on, as a wide-ranging inquiry would. The right hon. Member for Copeland called for a seven-course banquet of an inquiry. He said that BMARC should be the subject of a fully independent inquiry, quite separate from the Scott inquiry. That new inquiry should have access to all the documents and reports relevant to BMARC, and should be headed by a judge.

One effect of the right hon. Member for Copeland's suggestion would be that we would not know the results of the inquiry for years. The inquiry would incur vast costs, and would not even have the advantages that Lord Justice Scott had from looking into export licensing operations. That is not an argument in favour of a genuine inquiry into the facts. I never give up hope with the right hon. Gentleman, who is a smiling and charming person who listens to arguments. I wish him to listen to this argument.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot really be saying that he wants to push the matter into the public domain with a judge and with all the panoply that we have seen with the Scott inquiry in order to seek the facts rapidly, because the result would be an expensive rigmarole. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman share the confidence of his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central in the Select Committee system, particularly a Select Committee under the chairmanship of one of his colleagues?

One or two colleagues referred to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. My right hon. Friend has made a clear statement to the House that he was not aware that goods were being exported through Singapore to any other country, including Iran. The House has a proper respect for statements made by Members of Parliament to the House, and the tradition of the House to respect such personal statements should be continued in the circumstances. I believe that my right hon. Friend made a clear statement and—as far as I am concerned—that is that.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central picked apart a question to which I replied this afternoon, but it is a fact that the President of the Board of Trade made a perfectly accurate statement to the House last week. It is in keeping with the willingness of the DTI to provide full information that the information that the hon. Gentleman has received this afternoon is accurate in all respects. When the hon. Gentleman looks at the answer that is published tomorrow in Hansard, he will acknowledge that the average overall figure is 36 per cent.

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North challenged us about various documents found by the Ministry of Defence, but that is a proper matter for the inquiry and I do not intend to go into it this afternoon. The Ministry of Defence police have made a statement over the weekend, and those questions will continue. I am sure that the Trade and Industry Select Committee will look at that matter.

I am afraid that we have not thrown much light on the key subject of whether there should be an inquiry. If Opposition Members were genuinely interested in getting the facts, they would have agreed with Conservative Members that the Select Committee system has been set up for this purpose. The DTI is clearly willing to provide evidence. In the circumstances, the sooner we can proceed to a short, sharp but accurate inquiry, the better it will be.

When the President of the Board of Trade and I first heard our officials' findings in relation to BMARC's exports to Singapore, we admit that we were in no doubt about their significance and we kept inquiring for further details. Initially, the President and I asked questions that had been mentioned in the media regarding accusations that were made at the end of March. There has been no sudden desire to ferret out information. We believed that a clear series of events should be examined in the public interest and that resulted in last week's statement to the House.

I believe that it is the House's proper duty to take the matter forward and to ask the Select Committee to do its job. If it can do its job quickly, we will get to the facts and that will benefit all hon. Members.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:

The House divided: Ayes 267, Noes 291