High court Action (Parliamentary Papers)

Petitions – in the House of Commons at 11:08 am on 16th November 1979.

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Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton 11:08 am, 16th November 1979

I beg to present a petition which I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to direct the Clerk to read to the House.

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:

  1. 1. That the petitioner is an articled clerk with Janners the firm representing Albert Roberts the Member of Parliament for Normanton;
  2. 2. That an action has been brought in the High Court of Justice Queens Bench Division, by the said Albert Roberts, M.P. against the Observer Limited, Donald Trelford and Adam Raphael, the number of the action being 1978 R. No. 1805;
  3. 3. That in the said action the Plaintiff claims damages for libel in articles published in the issues of the Observer for 17th, 21st and 31st days of October 1976; and that the Plaintiff intends to apply to the High Court of Justice for an order striking out of the Defendants' Defence all matter relating to proceedings in your Honourable House or in any Committee thereof or relating to the Plaintiff's conduct as a member of your Honourable House.
  4. 4. That in the said action issues arise as to the conduct of the Plaintiff as a Member of Parliament and standards of conduct in public life;
  5. 5. That on 26th May 1818 (Official Report; Vol. 38, c. 956–57) your Honourable House agreed to certain Resolutions on Parliamentary privilege; on 4th March 1828 (Official Report; Vol 18, c. 968–72) your House debated the conduct of a Member; and on 26th July 1977 (Official Report, Vol. 936, c. 332–462) your Honourable House debated the Report of the Select Committee on Conduct of Members [H.C. No. 490, Session 1976–77].
  6. 6. That on 13th July 1977 the House ordered to be printed the aforesaid Report from the Select Committee on Conduct of Members (H.C. No. 490, Session 1976–77).
  7. 7. That the above Reports of Debates and Report printed as aforesaid relate directly to the issues referred to in paragraphs 3 and 4 hereof and reference is desired to be made in the action referred to in paragraph 2 hereof to the Reports of Debates and Report aforesaid.
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.

Motion made, and Question proposed.

That the House will be graciously pleased to give leave for reference to be made to the said Reports of Debates and Report.—[Mr. Albert Roberts.]

Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West 11:12 am, 16th November 1979

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.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

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.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West 11:18 am, 16th November 1979

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]AYES11.20 pm
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Fry, PeterPrescott, John
Berry, Hon AnthonyGarel-Jones, TristanRhodes James, Robert
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertGow, IanRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Boscawen, Hon RobertGraham, TedRoberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Bowden, AndrewHardy, PeterSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Brooke, Hon PeterHarrison, Rt Hon WalterSandelson, Neville
Buck, AntonyHattersley, Rt Hon RoyShepherd, Richard (Aldridge Br'hilis)
Burden, F. A.Hill, JamesSoley, Clive
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)Speller, Tony
Cohen, StanleyIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)Stallard, A. W.
Cope, JohnJopling, Rt Hon MichaelStanbrook, Ivor
Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)Kerr, RussellStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Cryer, BobLawrence, IvanStradling Thomas, J.
Dalyell, TamMcNally, ThomasStraw, Jack
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Mates, MichaelTebbit, Norman
Dobson, FrankMellor, DavidWellbeloved, James
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMeyer, Sir AnthonyWheeler, John
Dubs, AlfredMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Whitehead, Phillip
Ferr, JohnMills, Iain (Meriden)Whitlock, William
Fell, AnthonyMills, Peter (West Devon)Winterton, Nicholas
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMorrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)TELLERS FOR THE AYES: Mr. Peter Bottomley and Mr. Albert Roberts.
Fookes, Miss JanetNeedham, Richard
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldOsborn, John
Dunwoody, Mrs. GwynethTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
English, MichaelMr. Christopher Price and
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Mr. William Hamilton.
Skinner, Dennis

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the House will be graciously pleased to give leave for reference to be made to the said Reports of Debates and Report.

has the copyright. The BBC struggled to obtain that copyright so that it could sell it to others. The true and correct record of what actually happens here is in the form of the sound tape recording owned by the BBC, which is therefore not protected by any privilege of the House.

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.

Question put,

The House divided: Ayes 66, Noes 4.


Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

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.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

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.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

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.