The Clerk of the House:
read the petition, which was as follows:
To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of Anthony Nigel Brown sheweth:
Wherefore your Petitioner humbly prays that your Honourable House will be graciously pleased to give leave for reference to be made to the said Reports of Debates and Report.
And your Petitioner, as in duty bound, will pray, etc.
I understand that this motion is debatable. A motion was moved on a previous occasion by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) when he was Solicitor-General, and hon. Members wished to speak on the matter. That resulted in a long debate which ran over to the subsequent Friday. This is a particularly important issue and one that I raised in regard to the "ABS" case as a mater of privilege.
Strictly speaking, according to "Erskine May", if it is desired to quote Hansard or other parliamentary papers in court, the petitioner should apply to the House for permission. It has become the practice of late that the Government, in particular, when they do not want to bother to apply to the House to quote Hansard completely ignore the rule. I attended court for a great deal of the official secrets case—the "ABC" case—last year and Hansard was widely and constantly quoted by Mr. Justice Mars-Jones.
It is a good rule. Parliament and the courts are absolutely separate and must be kept separate, and if anyone wants to quote parliamentary papers in court he must first apply to us. The rule should be kept.
As the Leader of the House and the previous Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), will remember, subsequent to my raising the matter the Committee of Privileges considered the issue and published a report. The Committee considered properly and fully the Colonel B issue, but it considered the matter in a single sitting and produced a short report saying simply that the rule should be abolished. It cannot be abolished just because the Committee says so, and the matter cannot be resolved until the report is brought to the House for resolution.
I have been asking the Leader of the House since Parliament reconvened for a debate on the Floor of the House on the recommendations of the Committee of Privileges to decide the matter once and for all. The situation is grossly unsatisfactory. I have heard of many cases of Hansard being quoted in court without application having been made to the House.
I fundamentally disagree with the report of the Committee and believe that we should retain the tradition that has existed for many hundreds of years that we are separate from the courts. As an earnest of that, the courts must petition us if they wish to quote from Hansard. Many members of the Committee of Privileges are lawyers, and the Committee disagree with that view.
I am really addressing the Leader of the House, and I intend to use what I consider to be a proper privilege to speak on all occasions when such petitions are brought to the House. These petitions are not brought with notice and it is necessary to attend the House to discover whether they are being brought. I intend to speak, protest and, if necessary, object to such motions until we have a debate.
I formally object to the motion. I understand from the previous ruling that if formal objection is taken the petition must stand over.
I allowed the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) to go wide of the motion. We are discussing whether permission shall be given and not the broad issue. I permitted the hon. Member to make his point for the record, but the debate is a narrow one on whether this petition be granted.
The hon. Member is wrong in his submission that one voice is sufficient for an objection to be effective. It is a debatable motion, and I shall put the motion when hon. Members have indicated that there has been sufficient debate.
I object on simple grounds to this petition and all such others that come before us. The procedure clearly needs tidying up and the courts should not be applying for permission to quote Hansard.
For example, the Hansard report of this proceeding, within the permitted rules, will be somewhat tidied up from what was actually said on the Floor of the House. We all know that that takes place. It takes place within certain legitimate rules: grammar may be corrected but facts quoted may not, and so forth.
The fact is that the record in Hansard is not an exact and pure verbatim text of the proceedings on the Floor of the House. We have available just such a record as there is a broadcast tape of the proceedings. The law on this has has not been tidied up, but, as far as I am aware, anyone can apply for a copy of that record because it is a document in the possession of the BBC and the BBC
|Division No. 106]||AYES||11.20 pm|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Fry, Peter||Prescott, John|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Garel-Jones, Tristan||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Gow, Ian||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Graham, Ted||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)|
|Bowden, Andrew||Hardy, Peter||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Sandelson, Neville|
|Buck, Antony||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge Br'hilis)|
|Burden, F. A.||Hill, James||Soley, Clive|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)||Speller, Tony|
|Cohen, Stanley||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cope, John||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)||Kerr, Russell||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Cryer, Bob||Lawrence, Ivan||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Dalyell, Tam||McNally, Thomas||Straw, Jack|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Mates, Michael||Tebbit, Norman|
|Dobson, Frank||Mellor, David||Wellbeloved, James|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wheeler, John|
|Dubs, Alfred||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Ferr, John||Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Whitlock, William|
|Fell, Anthony||Mills, Peter (West Devon)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES: Mr. Peter Bottomley and Mr. Albert Roberts.|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Needham, Richard|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Osborn, John|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|English, Michael||Mr. Christopher Price and|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Mr. William Hamilton.|
In order to get the matter tidied up, we should all object to this unnecessary application for a not totally accurate record in the hope that eventually those on the Front Benches will get round to tidying up the law on the copyright of the broadcast of our proceedings. It is presently owned by the BBC because the House of Commons Commission did not exist to own it when we decided to broadcast the House. We have a House of Commons Commission, chaired by you, Mr. Speaker. You are the owner of the copyright in the matter, just as you are in charge of Hansard. These untidy loose ends have been left by successive Leaders of the House of all parties. I hope that they will be tidied up as soon as possible so that this archaic proceeding will cease to be necessary.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to revert, very briefly, to the vote on the petition and to suggest to you that you should consider whether you could make a statement on the subject or whether perhaps the Government may make a statement, because we might be involved in the same difficulties afresh.
It seems to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) has a strong case in the sense that we are now left in the position of a recommendation having been made by the Committee of Privileges on this question but the House has not yet had a chance to determine it. Therefore, if we are to proceed on that basis in future, perhaps the matter should be referred afresh to the Committee on Procedure. But possibly the Government could deal with the matter by bringing that recommendation forward for debate.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like the Leader of the House to consider also the points made by myself. It would be ludicrous to consider the procedure for dealing with Hansard in isolation from the procedure for dealing with the sound broadcasting tape. It is equally ludicrous that the copyright should be vested in the BBC because the House of Commons was not a corporate body and there was no corporate body then in existence which could own the copyright. There now is—it is the Commission of six people, chaired by yourself, Mr. Speaker—and the consequent change should take place.
I hope that the Leader of the House, in his reply, will consider the points raised by us and will consult with the Broadcasting Committee, which should by now be bringing forward recommendations appropriate to the circumstances after the passing of the House of Commons (Administration) Act.
Further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), Mr. Speaker. I think that he has raised a serious point, and I believe that the vote today has underlined its seriousness. I know that a number of hon. Members are concerned about this matter. I shall certainly consider the matter and see what we can do. However, we have a very full timetable, Mr. Speaker, and it is difficult to fit everything in. I recognise that this is an important House of Commons matter.
The point raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) is really a matter for the Commission, but if it does anyone any good I shall consider that, too.