Neil Kinnock – 1986 Speech on Westland

Below is the text of the speech made by Neil Kinnock, the then Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 23 January 1986.

After persistent efforts, we have managed to pull a statement from the right hon. Lady. It had a detail produced not by frankness but by guilt—unerasable guilt. That stain will stay with the right hon. Lady for as long as she endures in politics. Her excuses are completely implausible. She cannot justify or excuse the conduct of her Government in any one respect.

In this squalid story, we have been told that the leaking of the Solicitor-General’s letter was authorised —authorised by the right hon. Lady’s office and connived in by her office, all, says the Prime Minister, with her subsequent endorsement. We must ask the Prime Minister, especially given her personalised and centralised style of government, where she was on 6 January so that she could not be contacted on a matter as basic and essential as this. She has a duty to tell the House what she was doing when her office, as she says, was getting on with the business by itself.

We have been told that the matter was authorised. What was actually authorised was a conspiracy by people in the Department of Trade and Industry and people from the right hon. Lady’s office to disclose certain parts of a letter written by a Law Officer to another member of the Cabinet about a matter of important public business. That was their way, we are told, of putting it into the public domain. That was the route chosen — not by open means, but by subterfuge and dishonest means.

We have been told that there was an inquiry. Indeed, there have been answers in the House from Ministers, including the Prime Minister, saying that an earnest inquiry was being undertaken in the normal fashion. We have to ask: why was there an inquiry when everybody knew what had happened? Why was there an inquiry when everybody knew that there would be no prosecution because the dispensation had been given? The only precedent comparable with this act of contrived insincerity is the way in which Macbeth so fiercely looked around for Duncan’s murderers.

We hear from the Prime Minister that an immunity was offered. Why was that the case when it was plain that there was to be no prosecution?

We have heard a shabby story—an effort to defraud the public. The fact is that the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and everyone else involved would have got away with it were it not for the fact that in this democracy ultimately the Prime Minister had to make a statement. They would have dealt with the former Member of the Cabinet, the Secretary of State for Defence, not by the means available to the Prime Minister, if she believed that he was acting contrary to the national interest—not by sacking him—but by trying dishonestly and covertly to subvert him. That is a profound dishonesty. For the Government to leak in order to inform and influence public opinion is normal. For a Government to leak in order to discredit anyone is shameful. For a Government to leak in order to subvert a member of that Government is the action of a Government who are rotten not just to the core but from the core, and they should go.