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Lord Chesham: My Lords, it was not a Written Answer; it was an answer in a debate.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: --I beg the noble Lord's pardon. However, it does not make any difference to the issue. The noble Lord appeared to be claiming that the speech of the Foreign Secretary to the Dependent Territories' Association was a major policy statement. It was not.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, one of the statements made by the Foreign Secretary in that speech was:

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If legislation is required, I believe that it should be announced to the House.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Is that a major policy statement, my Lords? I am astonished at that definition--

Lord Chesham: My Lords, perhaps I may have one more moment of the Minister's time. Can the noble Lord give me a definition of the word "major"? I believe that a major policy statement like,

    "civilian flights will be allowed into Ascension Island",
may not be major for this country; but such a statement is very major to the inhabitants of Ascension Island and St. Helena.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Indeed, my Lords; it is important to them. I accept that fact. I do want to lower the tone of tonight's debate, but what the Foreign Secretary did was to outline the findings reached so far in the independent territories review. He did not announce a major policy change on citizenship but confined himself to saying that the proposal was under consideration. It is currently under consideration with the departments which are likely to be affected, and an announcement will be made when a collective decision has been reached. Therefore I have simply to deny that this was a major policy statement.

The noble Lord then referred to the unfortunate case, for which I have apologised earlier this afternoon, where a journalist received his Written Answer before he received it. I have apologised fully and I thought that I had set out--I certainly intended to set out in full--the reasons that error occurred. He now asks me whether the Strategic Communications Unit was involved in any way. I find that offensive. If it had been involved in any way--and it certainly was not--I would have told the noble Lord in my apology. I regret very much that he should make an assertion of that kind.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I hope I may have one more word. In his very composed and well accepted apology for what happened last Thursday the noble Lord advised me that he would keep me informed as to what would happen and would make an announcement as was necessary. I was sitting on the steps of the Throne at 2.35 this afternoon when the noble Lord came up to me and said, "I am making a statement now". That is hardly keeping me advised as to what was happening.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I believe it is doing exactly that. The only other example that I have heard from any noble Lord as regards any disrespect to Parliament is the noble Lord's repeated assertion that the role of my noble friend Lord Whitty this afternoon was in some way disrespectful to this House. The House decided it was not. I have never heard such weak support for the rather wild assertions which have been made by a number of noble Lords regarding disrespect for Parliament than I have heard this afternoon.

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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for intervening. This evening several noble Lords mentioned that the Speaker in the other place had on seven different occasions pointed out that matters had to be announced first in Parliament rather than somewhere else. This is a timed debate and we had 11 minutes in which to speak. The Minister could not really have expected us to itemise the seven occasions but one would like him to be able to agree that the Speaker would not have commented on those seven occasions unless matters had occurred that made it necessary for her to do so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if allegations are being made in this House they should be made openly in the Chamber and I do not think it should be left to mere unsupported assertion. If we want to go into that sort of argument, I remind the noble Baroness and noble Lords opposite of the situation with the previous Cabinet where the Thursday afternoon edition of the Evening Standard frequently, in fact normally, contained a full report of what happened in Cabinet. I remind noble Lords opposite of what happened when the election was announced less than a year ago on 17th March 1997 deliberately so as to avoid a report to Parliament from the Downey Commission, although it was not intended that the election should take place for six weeks. I remind noble Lords opposite about the basic pension plan which was announced on 5th March last year in a government press conference--not a Conservative press conference. No statement was ever made to the House of Commons.

In case we should think that that is only what happened immediately before the election, I remind noble Lords of the 1989 announcement of millions of pounds of support for the egg industry. A press announcement was made but no announcement was ever made in the House of Commons. As regards the Guildford and Woolwich bombings, a press release was made before a Written Answer and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, had to make apologies to the House.

I have sought to investigate the reality of these allegations. I have found no evidence provided by noble Lords this evening that they have any significant reality, or that there is any significant deterioration in the respect which this Government have for Parliament. I can confirm to noble Lords that the reality is that the formation of the Strategic Communications Unit does not affect in any way the duty that is placed upon Ministers in paragraph 27 of the Ministerial Code that,

    "Ministers will want to bear in mind the desire of Parliament that the most important announcements of government policy should be made, in the first instance, in Parliament".

This Question and the debate have been largely misconceived.

        House adjourned at twenty-four minutes past eleven o'clock.

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