On a point of order, Mr. Bercow. You will recall that the Committee debated earlier the apparent errors made by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Mr. Quick, the assistant commissioner, when they gave evidence, and the fact that the errors were communicated apparently to the press but not to the Committee, except by a phone call to the Clerk, which was regarded as insufficient. I see that the Committee has now received a memorandum from the commissioner and assistant commissioner, which members of the Committee should have in front of them. In four lines it purports to deal with what appears to be a serious error in the evidence, but does not contain an apology or an explanation as to why the error was made. It simply claims to clarify that 15 plots have been foiled or have failed since 2000, and not 2005. It is astonishingly discourteous for a supplementary memorandum in those terms to be supplied to a Public Bill Committee.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. That four-line explanation is inadequate. If indeed it was a mistake, there is little doubt that it was deeply misleading. If it was deliberately misleading, I find that extraordinary. If it was an omission, I find it incompetent. The way in which the facts were presented was misleading, not just to us and to subsequent sittings of the Committee, but also to the press, which capitalised on it. To have a four-line apologia such as that is inadequate, and I ask for your guidance.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. We have to be careful not to be overcome by our own pomposity on such matters. Having said that, those witnesses were the Government’s principal advisers on counter-terrorism. They were important witnesses who should have given accurate information. That they did not, in that instance, is regrettable in the extreme, but that they saw fit to communicate with us without any sense of apology is discourteous to the Committee. That should be recorded, and if possible brought, in the most strenuous terms, to the attention of the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. Let us be clear; the evidence was not deliberately misleading. That was made clear by the witnesses. Unfortunately for them and for our deliberations, it was made clear by phone and e-mail, almost instantly after their appearance, but to the scrutiny unit, rather than otherwise. It was made clear to them that that was not appropriate and they were told clearly how they should respond. I share the Committee’s view that this is at best a less than satisfactory way of responding, and I will take the matter up with them and demand something more substantial by way of a further memorandum. There is no question that it was deliberately misleading—it was not and they made that clear.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. I certainly was not suggesting that the evidence was deliberately misleading, but the Committee—without being pompous—might wish to contrast the approach that appears to have been adopted by the Metropolitan police in this case with that of Mr. Rebello when he made a mistake in his evidence.
If hon. Members will forgive me, I would like to offer a response to the various points of order. My view is that corrections issued to members of the Committee should be timely, gracious and of good quality. This correction satisfies none of those criteria. However, it is not of itself disorderly. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome was anxious that his concerns and those of other hon. Members should be recorded and they have been: they will be in the Official Report of the proceedings of this Committee. I hope that Members will accept that I have given a very clear response. We have pressures of time and important matters to consider. I would like now to proceed with the further business of the Committee. I therefore call the Minister.
I rise to move the motion, but let me just say in passing, Mr. Bercow, that in the light of your comments about timeliness, given that the four-line memo is dated May 2007, I may take it back to the appropriate authorities.
I beg to move,
That the Order of the Committee [22nd April 2008] be amended as follows: In paragraph (1)(e) leave out ‘1.00 p.m.’ and insert ‘2.00 p.m.’.
Members will know that the late Gwyneth Dunwoody’s relationship with the Government was tempestuous at best, but as a Transport Minister for two years and with the stripes on my back to prove it, I regarded the lady with both affection, and terror and fear, in equal measure. I should like to pay my respects and I know that many other members of the Committee would like to do so too.