HC Deb 22 February 1999 vol 326 cc21-34 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

Madam Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a statement about the injunction in respect of prior publication of the Stephen Lawrence report.

In July 1997, I announced to the House that I was establishing a full judicial inquiry under Police Act powers into matters relating to the death of Stephen Lawrence. It was the first such inquiry since Lord Scarman's inquiry into the Brixton riots in 1981. I also announced that the former High Court judge, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, was to chair this inquiry.

The House knows that the inquiry has raised matters of profound importance not only to the Lawrence family but to society as a whole. The report was delivered to me last Monday. Given the intense public and media interest in the inquiry's report, I took active steps to ensure the security of the report while it was being printed, and to ensure that it was first published to Parliament and to no one else. I believed that that was essential to avoid any distress to the Lawrence family or unfairness to police officers named in the report, and out of respect for the House and its procedures. Madam Speaker, I think that you will confirm that I wrote to you last week seeking your agreement to the arrangements which I had put in hand.

At about 5.15 pm last Saturday evening, the Home Office duty press officer received a call from the BBC. The person claimed that The Sunday Telegraph had obtained a leaked copy of the report of the inquiry which it intended to publish in full, or to publish substantial parts of it. As soon as I was informed, at about 6.30 pm, I said that The Sunday Telegraph should be asked not to print a leaked copy of the report. The Sunday Telegraph was not, however, prepared to indicate exactly what material it had in its possession, nor to desist from publication.

The Treasury solicitors, briefed by Home Office lawyers, then also approached The Sunday Telegraph. The paper indicated that it was not in possession of a copy of the report itself, but that a journalist had had access to it. It informed us that its deadline for printing and publication was 8.30 pm.

I took the view that prior publication of parts of this report was not remotely in the public interest. I considered that it was likely to cause distress to the Lawrence family, and to place the police officers concerned in near impossible circumstances in which they would be expected to respond to partial claims of what the report contained without having access to the report itself. I have also always believed, as you do Madam Speaker, that such reports must first be published to Parliament. Moreover, these were wholly exceptional circumstances. This was not a policy White Paper, and the Government could not be embarrassed in any way by the contents of the report being revealed. Above all, this was a report of a full judicial inquiry. It would, I suggest to the House, be no more acceptable to have revealed a premature and incomplete account of the findings of such a full judicial inquiry than it would be for the judgment of a court of law to be disclosed in that way.

I remind the House that one of the other purposes of that important convention is to secure protection for those conducting such inquiries. Statute law provides absolute privilege for such documents as the inquiry report only when they are presented to Parliament. In all the circumstances, I therefore decided that every possible effort should be made to preserve the confidentiality of the report, including, if necessary, the seeking of an injunction.

By about 7.45 pm on Saturday, an approach had been made to the duty judge, Mr. Justice Rix, by the Treasury Solicitor. After legal representatives of The Sunday Telegraph had been given an opportunity to make representations to the judge, the judge decided to issue an injunction at about 8.35 pm. The terms of the injunction were to prevent the publication of any part of, or extract from, the report, or the publication of any article based on the report or part of it, or extracts from the report.

It later became clear, however, that The Sunday Telegraph had in fact printed and distributed large numbers of copies of the paper earlier in the evening. In practice, therefore, the contents of The Sunday Telegraph report came into the public domain, notwithstanding the terms of the injunction that had been obtained.

At about midday yesterday, Sunday, The Sunday Telegraph approached the Treasury Solicitor to give notice that it would take the injunction back to the judge. The Sunday Telegraph made it clear to the Home Office that it accepted that it—The Sunday Telegraph—should continue to be restrained by injunction from publishing any part of the inquiry report that had not found its way into the public domain. It also proposed that the order should not apply to those parts that were in any event already public. By that stage, that was the only practical course available.

I greatly regret that our injunction came too late to maintain the confidentiality of the full report until it was published to Parliament, but the injunction remains in force until Wednesday in respect of those parts that have not found their way into the public domain.

The House will wish to know that the solicitors acting for the Lawrence family confirmed to my office today that Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence fully appreciate and understand my concern for their feelings about publication of the leaked extracts. As the family have known for some time, it was always my intention to ensure that they would—subject to your agreement, Madam Speaker—have an opportunity to see the report before it entered the public domain, and shortly before publication to Parliament. In view of what has appeared in the press, I have made it clear to them that they may see the report as soon as they wish to do so. Arrangements have therefore been made for them to receive it today. I have also—with your agreement, Madam Speaker—made arrangements for the Commissioner of Police to see the report.

The job that we ask our police service to do on our behalf is difficult at the best of times. We saw one illustration of that only last week in the policing of the demonstration outside the Greek embassy, and the skilful ending by the police of the occupation of the building. As a result of the premature publication of parts of the Stephen Lawrence report, the police service and the Commissioner have now been subjected to a wholly unfair process of speculation to which they could not and cannot properly respond. The fact that prejudicial comments have been made against the Commissioner before he has even had a chance to see the report is one of many reasons why it was right to seek to stop this from happening.

I condemn the breach of trust that was involved in making the material involved available to The Sunday Telegraph in this way, and Sir William Macpherson shares that view. The permanent secretary at the Home Office will be inquiring into the matter. The claims that the freedom of the press has been challenged by the injunction are absurd. The whole report will be published in full to Parliament on Wednesday, as planned; but it was and remains plainly contrary to the public interest for there to be selective and premature disclosure of a judicial inquiry.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I do not accept what the Home Secretary has said. Is not the real position that the Home Secretary embarked on an entirely unjustified and autocratic action and has now been forced into a humiliating climbdown? Will he confirm that no issue of national security was raised at all and that The Sunday Telegraph was carrying out its legitimate and proper role as a newspaper—to report and to reveal?

In that respect, let me declare an interest. I have been a member of the National Union of Journalists for the past 35 years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I know that it is unfashionable among Labour Members, but that is what I have been. I am also non-executive chairman of a regional newspaper company. In my experience, both political and journalistic, I have never seen the sort of action that was attempted by the Home Secretary. The injunction was to prevent publication of some extracts of a report that was to be published in a few days in any event. That may be irritating for the Government, but such reports have happened time and again, Government after Government, without Ministers resorting to injunctions. It is ludicrous to think that the Home Secretary can quell speculation about what will be in the report.

On the interests of the Lawrence family, I, like all hon. Members, have the strongest sympathy for the family, but there was nothing in The Sunday Telegraph report that damaged their interests, and there was certainly nothing to justify the heavyhanded action by the Home Secretary.

Even less will the House be persuaded that the Government were trying to protect Parliament. It is an explanation that defies belief. It is the Government who are the chief leakers of their own announcements. Time and again, the Government have leaked their announcements in advance.

Is the Home Secretary aware that next to no one believes that the so-called spin doctors who are employed by the Government are there to defend parliamentary democracy? They do not think twice about leaking if it is to their advantage. The Government have devalued Parliament; they have not protected it.

I remind the Home Secretary that he made a statement only last Monday on severely disturbed people in the community. As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) complained at the time, the details of that statement were all in the weekend's press. The pitch had been rolled in advance, and rolled by the Home Secretary's Department.

On the source of the story, is the Home Secretary convinced that it did not come from any Minister or any official in his Department? Will he now say who had access to the report? Is it possible that the paragraphs were provided deliberately to convey a message that was antagonistic to the interests of those who were being reported—the police?

In his statement last night, the Home Secretary said that the so-called principle of what he had done remained unchallenged. Let him therefore be specific. Is he saying that his action was not only justified, but that the Government would consider doing the same with other newspaper reports? Is he saying that, in similar circumstances, the injunction would be used again? Is that the Home Secretary's concept of freedom of the press?

No issue of national security was at stake. What the Home Secretary should do is apologise to the House and the public for his action, and give an assurance that neither he nor any other Minister will repeat that action. As it stands, his action in pressing for an injunction will go down as a massive error of judgment on his part and on the part of the Government. It is a shabby episode that shows the Government at their worst.

Mr. Straw

If apologies are due, they are due from the shadow Home Secretary for speaking to the House as chairman of a newspaper company, not as a Member of Parliament.

Hon. Members


Sir Norman Fowler

On a point of order, Madam Speaker—

Madam Speaker

Order. I was being distracted. Will the Home Secretary repeat what he said, so that I know whether it should be withdrawn? I am very concerned about it, but I do not know what he said.

Mr. Straw

I said that, if apologies were due, they were due from the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) for speaking to the House—as indeed he himself declared—as a non-executive chairman of a newspaper company, rather than as a Member of the House.

Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order—all of you. It is time tempers on both sides of the House cooled down. I hope that the Secretary of State will apologise and rephrase what he has to say. We should get on with our business now.

Mr. Straw

I withdraw the remark and apologise to the shadow Home Secretary.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield suggested that it was a very unusual course of action to take. He was right about that—it was indeed a very unusual course of action to take. It was an unusual course to take because it deals with the very unusual circumstances of the report of a judicial inquiry.

The right hon. Gentleman asked when the most recent occasion on which such a report had been considered by the House was. The most recent occasion I can recall on which such an inquiry report was made available to the House, under the terms of the Police Act, was Lord Scarman's report into the Brixton riots, in 1981.

As I made clear repeatedly over the weekend, there was no suggestion that the Government, outside the sphere of national security, should use the injunctive powers available to them when they are seeking to avoid embarrassment to themselves as a Government or to prevent prior disclosure of a document, such as a White Paper or other policy document. Such use in those circumstances plainly would be disproportionate.

However, my judgment—which I believe is also the judgment of the whole House—was that it was entirely appropriate to seek that injunction: to protect the interests of the Lawrence family, of the police service and, above all, of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked me questions about the inquiry that my permanent secretary will be undertaking and about who will have access to that report. The answer is that the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait until that inquiry is made public.

I should tell the right hon. Gentleman that I was very surprised indeed by the tone of his remarks. I am astonished that he should not recognise that there is a profound difference between a run-of-the-mill Government publication and the report of a judicial inquiry; and that, in these circumstances, it was entirely appropriate for me to seek that injunction, which stands.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

As a member of the National Union of Journalists—which the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) is—and as a former shadow Home Secretary—which the right hon. Gentleman soon will be—may I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the fact that we are witnessing an instructive example of two legitimate positions in a democracy: a newspaper that has got hold of a document of public interest, which it has decided it wishes to publish; and a Home Secretary who wishes to protect the date of publication of a report of which he is custodian? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the position of the Conservatives is not legitimate? They pursued Sarah Tisdall into gaol for a minor leak. They tried to put Clive Ponting into gaol. They pursued the "Spycatcher" issue to Australia in an effort, not to postpone publication but to suppress the book, resulting in the invention of the phrase "economical with the truth"—a phrase that applies to the Tory party.

Mr. Straw

Yes. The Conservatives are the last people from whom we should take lectures, given their record.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

I wholly agree with the Home Secretary that the public interest in freedom of expression is not well served by advance headlining of selective findings from a judicial inquiry to be published in its entirety within a few days. We should recognise that the press has spotlit the Lawrence case in the past and sustained public concern, but I hope that the premature pickings will in no way blunt the edge of the full Macpherson report when it is published.

The culture that we are living in stems from the previous Conservative Government, of which the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) was a member. We well remember the efforts that were made to manipulate the Scott inquiry. Does the Home Secretary accept that relentless Government spin and off-the-record briefings have made the publication of such judicial inquiries a matter of great difficulty, and that it might be better to require the findings of such an inquiry to be handled in the same way as the judgments of a court, leaving publication to the judge?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks and his support for my position. I entirely accept that reports of such judicial inquiries must be handled carefully. In my opening remarks I drew a parallel between such a report and the judgment of a court of law. Given that I established the inquiry, it could be published only to Parliament. I had laid careful plans to ensure that there was no briefing before the publication of the report and that it was made available to Parliament alone first.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us believe that the principle of reporting to Parliament is so fundamental that we deprecate any attempt by anyone to get round the rules just to protect a paper's circulation? It should be generally understood that the principle of free speech commands the support of the public, but it also gives everyone the responsibility of playing according to the rules. Those who cheat do nothing to support the idea of a responsible and sensible press.

Mr. Straw

I share my hon. Friend's view. It is essential that all Members of Parliament show respect for this House above all and ensure that all important statements, including the reports of inquiries, are made available to the House first.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)

Does the Home Secretary not understand that his behaviour over the weekend and his statement to the House have been greeted with such a lack of respect because he is a senior member of a Government who have institutionalised leaking? Given the complaints that have been made here and elsewhere over the past 20 months, to try to tell the House that the Government believe in the primacy of Parliament brings the right hon. Gentleman into contempt. Will he ask his permanent secretary and Sir Richard Wilson to place in the Library of the House a list of all conversations involving Ministers, special advisers and members of press offices—in the Cabinet Office, No. 10 and the Home Office—over the past four days that relate to the issue in any way? That may allow us better to test some of the Home Secretary's statements.

Mr. Straw

I reject the right hon. Gentleman's central allegation. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield referred to the statement on severe personality disorders that I made in the House last Monday and, to pick up on that point, it is simply untrue and incorrect—as I made clear yesterday—that there was any prior briefing of newspapers by my Department or by special advisers. I make that absolutely clear.

The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) asked me to place in the Library certain records relating to contacts between members of the Government and journalists regarding the report. I have discussed the contents of the Lawrence inquiry report with no journalist at any time. The other matters to which the right hon. Gentleman referred will be dealt with by the inquiry by my permanent secretary and the Home Office.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there would have been a different row today had he not taken action regarding the court case, with Opposition Members demanding to know why there had been no statement from him on the Lawrence affair in view of the leak in the press? In all the years since Stephen Lawrence was put to death—during which no one has been convicted of that racist murder—I have never seen the sort of fury that we have had from the Tories today. They are furious about the court injunction—they have never seemed furious about the lack of justice in terms of bringing racist thugs to court.

Mr. Straw

There has been widespread concern about the circumstances of the death of Stephen Lawrence, which I hope is widely shared across the House. My hon. Friend is entirely right that had I not sought the injunction in those particular circumstances, there would have been exactly the opposite complaint from the Opposition, who would have complained that I had not sought an injunction to preserve the integrity of Parliament.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

The words of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) will be on the record, and will be judged by those who care to look back. The Home Secretary was right to set up the inquiry, and much good will come from the bad things that have been reported to it. Many will look with interest at the inquiry's conclusions and recommendations. Today's statement was not about that—it was about the injunction.

Who is the Minister responsible for the freedoms—not the controls—of the press? If it is not the Home Secretary, was that Minister consulted before the injunction was applied for? Most importantly, given that the presses have been stopped once because of Government action, could there be consultation between the Lord Chancellor, Alastair Campbell and the Prime Minister so that a cast-iron guarantee can be given that the Government never again will do what they did on Saturday night?

Mr. Straw

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for policy relating to the press. I did not consult him on Saturday. This was a decision that I made, and for which I am personally responsible. The hon. Gentleman asked for an undertaking that we never again seek an injunction in circumstances such as those which faced me on Saturday night. I am afraid that I cannot give him that undertaking. I do not believe that circumstances will often arise—they have not done so often in the past—where what a Secretary of State is seeking to protect is not a policy White Paper or a document for which it would be self-serving to seek to obtain an injunction because the document was an embarrassment to the Government: something that the Tory Government often did.

This document was not remotely embarrassing to the Government, and contained the contents of a judicial inquiry. I remain astonished that not a single Tory Member seems to believe that a report of a full judicial inquiry should have been made public in full to Parliament first, and that it was right for me to seek to protect the position of Parliament.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that whoever leaked the findings of the Macpherson report to The Sunday Telegraph did not have at heart the best interests of the Lawrence family and natural justice? The Lawrences have had to listen to Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all commenting on partial disclosure of a report that they have not seen. They must be concerned that the impact of an important and serious report has been blunted by that disclosure.

As for the synthetic indignation of Tory spokesmen, Londoners and Britain's black and Asian community will judge the way in which they have made such a song and dance of what is essentially a side issue, when it is clear that they will fall curiously silent when it comes to a serious debate about the serious issues concerning institutional racism with which the Macpherson report deals.

Mr. Straw

I endorse what my hon. Friend says. I find it extraordinary, given the huge distress that the Lawrence family have suffered in the nearly six years since their son was murdered, that Conservative Members seem to brush aside the concern that was uppermost in my mind when I sought the injunction, which was to prevent the family from suffering further distress in the three days leading up to the publication of the inquiry's report. Far from suppressing publication of the report, I was seeking to ensure that it was published in full, but in an orderly manner, to the House and to the public.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

I happen to believe that the right to a fair hearing extends not only to the family of Stephen Lawrence but to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I agree that the report should have been made available to Parliament first. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) said, the Government have institutionalised leaks: material is released before it is announced to Parliament, on the "Today" programme on Radio 4, virtually every morning of any week.

The Home Secretary said that the report was different from what he described as the ordinary, run-of-the-mill Government document. I hope, Madam Speaker, that you would agree that he should give the House an assurance that, from now on, every Government document of any kind will be made available to Parliament before it is made available to the press.

Mr. Straw

Of course there is a distinction between an ordinary White Paper, for which it would be entirely disproportionate, even if it were leaked, for Ministers to seek an injunction to prevent its prior publication, and a report of the result of a full judicial inquiry. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman fails to note that distinction. He is entirely right that not only the Lawrence family but the Commissioner are entitled to a fair hearing and the respect of Parliament. I believe that he has been placed in a nigh impossible position as a result of the prior publication of the report.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)

Am I right in thinking that, had the report been published in full on Wednesday, as planned, the people and organisations involved would have been able to read it and be ready to respond to questions from the media? That right has been taken away from them by the leak. Are not freedom and responsibility of the press two sides of the same coin?

Mr. Straw

That is entirely right. We understand that, if the press get hold of such a document, they will consider it their duty to publish it, and I make no particular complaint about that; but we have other responsibilities. My anger is directed at the individual or individuals who may have leaked the report to the journalists, and I direct that anger on behalf of the Lawrence family, on behalf of the police, who have been placed in an extremely difficult position as a result of the prior publication, and—I say it with respect, Madam Speaker—on behalf of the House.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Does the Home Secretary really think that it is defensible, when considering respect for Parliament, to make a distinction between what he describes as ordinary, run-of-the-mill statements, and reports of judicial inquiries under the Police Act? Are we really to expect the Government to come to Parliament first only once in every 18 years?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is deliberately misinterpreting what I said, and he knows it. Parliamentary documents should, of course, be made available first to Parliament: I seek to do that and have always done so. If that is his proposition, I agree with him. However, I disagree with the proposition that there is no distinction between a White Paper and the report of a full judicial inquiry. The hon. Gentleman is wrong on that point. I repeat that it would be disproportionate and out of the question for Ministers to seek to use injunctive powers to prevent the prior publication of a White Paper, and it would be unlikely that any judge would grant such an application. The judge must consider whether publication is contrary to the public interest and, in this case, it was the judge—not me—who made that judgment, given all the circumstances surrounding the publication of this report by a judicial inquiry.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

My right hon. Friend was right to act in the way he did at the weekend, and he was right to want to come to Parliament first. I thank him for allowing the Lawrence family to see the report today, which was the correct and compassionate thing to do. Does he share my disgust at the attitude of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) in seeking to play politics with the issues of race and racism, when he and the Conservative party did nothing to deal with those issues when they were in government?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the action that I took. I would take such action again, if faced with similar circumstances. However, I do not share my hon. Friend's view of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, because his record in Parliament is one of opposition to racism. It remains the fact that it was left to me to set up the inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Stephen Lawrence, because the request was refused by my predecessor. However, that was not the responsibility of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Whether the Home Secretary likes it or not, I fear that he has been guilty of political ineptitude this weekend. Does he agree that he made a false point in defending his application for the injunction? He said that one of the reasons he applied for it was to protect Sir William Macpherson of Cluny because he might be liable for any unauthorised publication. However, that retired judge would not be liable for any unauthorised publication of the report because he was not responsible for the leaking of the document. The leaking of the document emanated from the Government.

Mr. Straw

The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a false assumption at the end of his question.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that no journalist can seriously maintain that any issue of freedom of the press was involved in enjoining newspapers not to publish the contents of the report until Wednesday—despite the false indignation of many leader writers—because newspapers are happy to withhold the entire contents of Government reports for two or three days when offered to them under embargo? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only issue involved here is that of courtesy—to the Lawrence family, to the Metropolitan police Commissioner and to the House?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend speaks from great experience as a journalist—

Sir Norman Fowler


Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman says ex-journalist, but I do not think that he is correct. Many of the complaints in the press today are both predictable and synthetic, because my actions were not remotely an attack on the freedom of the press, given that the report will be published in full on Wednesday. That point was made eloquently by Mr. Roy Greenslade, the former editor of The Mirror, in The Guardian today.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

The House would have listened to the Home Secretary with more sympathy if his statement had not come against a background of two and a half years of consistent, widespread, tendentious and selective briefing by almost every Department in Whitehall. Is he serious about trying to trace this leak? He has not answered the questions put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), including how many copies of the document there were, to whom they were circulated and whether they were numbered.

Mr. Straw

To answer the right hon. Gentleman's point, I can tell him that we are very serious about tracing the leak, and that is why an inquiry by the permanent secretary at the Home Office has been established.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

The House has heard on two occasions allegations about institutionalised leaking by the Government. The last time that a judicial inquiry was held—the full judicial review by Lady Butler-Sloss of the Cleveland child abuse crisis—was under the previous Government, when the then Department of Health and Social Security leaked the entire summary of conclusions to the Press Association. Will my right hon. Friend confirm again that Parliament must assert its rights in the interests of the people to whom we are accountable, who include the Lawrence family and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis?

Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that the injunction was not lifted, but that it was merely varied, on the grounds that the information published in the Scottish edition of The Sunday Telegraph was already in the public domain? Is not that judgment in accordance with a decision by the European Court of Human Rights?

Mr. Straw

I share my hon. Friend's view of the importance of showing proper respect to Parliament, and his implication that the last people able to lecture us about that are members of the previous Government.

With regard to the injunction, anyone reading this morning's newspapers would think that it had been lifted. In fact, The Sunday Telegraph consented—indeed, it proposed—that the injunction should remain in force in respect of that part of the report that was not yet in the public domain. The injunction was lifted only in respect of that part of the report that had entered the public domain, even though the injunction had been granted on Saturday night.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Does the Home Secretary agree that his protestations on behalf of Parliament, welcome as they are, would ring a lot truer had he not been a member of an Opposition who sought every opportunity to exploit leaked documents—given to them by civil servants and others—to discredit the previous Government?

The Home Secretary did not answer the question about the number of documents that were in circulation posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark). He owes it to the House to give those figures. Were the documents numbered? Were any civil servants—in the Home Office or in other Whitehall Departments—authorised to give selective briefings to journalists? Were any briefings given, authorised or otherwise?

Mr. Straw

I am not disclosing the security arrangements that we made in respect of the document, precisely because an inquiry into how the leak happened has been established and because any such disclosure would be prejudicial to that inquiry, for reasons that ought to be obvious to the hon. Gentleman.

Will the hon. Gentleman remind me of his other question?

Mr. Howarth

I asked whether any of the Home Secretary's officials were authorised to give briefings of any description.

Mr. Straw

The answer is no.

Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)

Does my right hon. Friend share my regret that those who leaked part of the report—and Conservative Members, judging by their subsequent actions—appear to show no concern for the feelings of the Lawrence family? Does he also share my unease that the vitriolic attacks made on him over the weekend, particularly by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and by the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley), seemed to divert attention from the substance of that very important report?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having the courage to take the very difficult decision to set up the judicial inquiry. The hon. Member for Worthing, West used to represent Eltham, and immediately after the last general election, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) approached his predecessor to ask him to put his name to an all-party early-day motion calling for an inquiry into the circumstances of Stephen Lawrence's death. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Worthing, West declined, and would my right hon. Friend care to comment?

Mr. Straw

It is not for me to offer an explanation of the view taken by the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley), who must explain himself. However, I have to say that, in my experience, the hon. Gentleman has shown considerable support for the Lawrence family.

I am grateful for the support expressed by my hon. Friend for my establishment of the inquiry, and for the fact that I have sought to protect the family, the police and the House from the premature publication of the report.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the Home Secretary accept that there is nothing synthetic about the charge that the handling of a very important document has been unfortunate and unhappy? In relation to the rumours currently circulating about briefing against the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis—of which, I am sure, he knows nothing, and which I am sure he would not want—can the Home Secretary assure the House that there is no such briefing?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to say that an unfortunate and unhappy set of events led to the leaking of part of the report. The whole House—whatever view Members may take of the injunction—will wholly condemn that leak.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I have no truck whatever with any briefing against the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. Indeed, my view is quite the reverse. I have today recorded my acknowledgement of the fine work done by the Commissioner and the Metropolitan police over many years. There are many examples, of which the best is the most recent—namely, the expertise and skill employed in policing the occupation of the Greek embassy, which ensured a peaceful end in circumstances that might have turned out otherwise.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his efforts to protect the interests of Back-Bench Members who often do not get to hear things first? I also congratulate him on the sensitivity with which he considered the interests of the Lawrence family, which are more important than even our interests.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on two allegations made on "Today" this morning? First, The Sunday Telegraph alleged that the Lawrence family had agreed to publication, or was not opposed to it. Secondly, and more importantly, the Police Federation spokesman claimed that the Home Office had been leaking for 10 weeks, which appears unlikely given the timetable under which the report reached the Home Secretary's attention.

Mr. Straw

On suggestions that the Lawrence family have not been opposed to publication, I cannot offer any insight into conversations that may or may not have taken place between The Sunday Telegraph and the representatives—or alleged representatives—of the family. However, as I have said to the House, solicitors acting for the family have made clear their understanding of the course of action that I took on the family's behalf. The suggestion that the Home Office had been leaking the report for 10 weeks—or even for 10 minutes—is wholly untrue.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Is not it true that the real harm done to the Lawrence family occurred when Stephen was killed and when the investigation was botched? How can the Home Secretary think that the leaking of the report a couple of days early will have terrible effects on the Lawrence family after all else that they have been through? Is he aware of a report in today's Evening Standard, not—so far—injuncted? It states: Such leaks come week in and week out, many of them from members of the Cabinet. The report also notes well-sourced suspicions that the culprit is a junior Home Office Minister. If the culprit is a junior Minister, and if one Labour Minister has had to seek an injunction as a result of the actions of another, will that junior Minister be sacked if he is found out?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman asked about distress caused to the Lawrence family, suggesting that any distress subsequent to the murder itself pales into insignificance. I do not accept that view. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has spoken eloquently for both the Lawrence family and for a great many people—especially among the black community—on the profound sense of hurt felt about both the murder and all that has followed since.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)

Does my right hon. Friend share my sadness at the reaction of our press? Does he believe that the currency of the freedom of the press, which the House unanimously believes is important, has been devalued by today's press? The newspapers appear to be interested in protecting not the interests of the British public, but their own circulation and pecuniary interests. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that many of us are extremely angry that, right at the end of a series of injustices, there has been yet another injustice whereby someone, for some reason unknown to us, has leaked the results of the inquiry in an unfair and unreasonable manner? Will he ensure that appropriate and firm punishment is meted out to anyone who is found to have leaked the document?

Mr. Straw

I share my hon. Friend's views. As for the outcome of any leak inquiry, we must wait to see what conclusion it comes to.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) has already expressed our view that the public interest and the fight against racism are better served by full, rather than partial, publication of the report. Will the Home Secretary clarify the expected timetable for the full publication on Wednesday; and, in particular, tell the House whether any public line will be expressed by the Government before the hour at which he comes to the House to make his statement?

Mr. Straw

As you know, Madam Speaker, the current arrangements are that I should make the report available at 3.30 pm on Wednesday, with copies available in the Vote Office, and make an oral statement to the House. That will be the first public statement that I shall make.

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