House Of Commons
Tuesday 2nd May 1978
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
King's College London Bill (By Order)
Order for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time upon Tuesday next.
Vale Of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill
As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.
Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill (By Order)
Order for consideration, as amended, read.
As amended, to be considered upon Tuesday next.
Mile End Gardens (Portsmouth) Bill Lords
Read a Second time and committed.
Oral Answers To Questions
Departmental Employees (Car Allowances)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what rate per mile is paid to personnel of his Department when using their own cars on official business.
The allowance paid depends upon the circumstances in which the private car is used. The standard rates are from 10·6p to 13·4p per mile, depending upon engine size. The standard rate is paid when the use of the private car is justified. Where the advantages lie with the journey being made by public transport, a rate of 6·3p per mile is paid.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all these rates compare very favourably with the 4·1p per mile paid to Service men? Will he inform the Secretary of State for Defence of the differences paid in the mileage rate and invite him to take steps to put them right?
I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I think that the hon. Gentleman should have tabled a Question to him. I cannot help but wonder whether the cost of the hon. Gentleman's travel to the House to ask this Question was really worth while.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the number of people currently registered as unemployed in the city of Birmingham; what was the number 12 months ago; and how many of these were and are under the age of 18 years.
Between April 1977 and April 1978, the total numbers registered as unemployed in the city of Birmingham fell from 38,433 to 36,014. At January 1978, however, the latest date for which figures by age are available, there were 3,337 people under 18 years of age unemployed, compared with 3,216 a year earlier.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, but can he tell us what contribution the various Government Departments operating in the City of Birmingham have made to the employment of young people, school-leavers, and so on, as trainees? Can he give an assurance that these Government Departments will respond to all the exhortations and injunctions issued by the Government to private employers in respect of the employment and training of young people?
There have been difficulties with the trade unions in the public sector with regard to support for the work experience programme and, as Ministers, we appeal to them to give support.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why the skillcentres in Birmingham and the Midlands are not filling about 20 per cent. of their places despite heavy advertising? Will he take into account the fact that incentives to young people to acquire skills are not great enough to attract them to this necessary work, which is the basis for the expansion of business in due course?
The skillcentres are for adults rather than young people. There is no shortage of young people wanting to take up apprenticeships. The short answer is that the engineering industry, unfortunately, is not attractive enough at present to people in this country.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest estimate of the annual percentage increase in aggregate earnings in the current pay round.
The monthly index indicates that average earnings were about 10·4 per cent. higher in February this year than in February last year. This compares with an increase of about 10·3 per cent. in the previous 12 months.
How much evidence does the Minister of State have of bogus self-financing productivity deals, and what action does he intend to take in such cases?
I am not sure how that issue arises under this Question, but we look very carefully at productivity proposals. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has noticed from the Press that we are making arrangements to vet them in the future.
Will the Minister of State indicate what is the rate of increase estimated for the public sector as opposed to the private sector, and give forecasts of how he sees the outturn during the present phase of pay policy?
I do not think that we produce separate figures for the public sector as opposed to the private sector. As to any guesstimates about the outturn, some people have been making speculative forecasts. I prefer not to indulge in that game, because past experience has shown how misleading it can be. Those who have been using figures such as 14 per cent. should be aware of the damage that they are doing to the economy and to our national interests.
With regard to bogus productivity deals—this clearly arises out of my hon. Friend's question—will the Minister say how many civil servants are engaged in monitoring what would be a quite futile exercise?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the figures offhand. If he will table a Question I shall try to inform him of the numbers involved. I hope that he would want us to monitor and vet productivity deals to ensure that they are not bogus. We are satisfied that those that have been before my Department and have been approved so far are genuine self-financing productivity deals.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the aggregate earnings are dependent to a very great extent not just on productivity deals but on overtime, and a great deal of it? Does he not agree further that it is rather sad that so much overtime is being worked when so many people are out of work? Could not something be done about this?
I think that we are at one in wishing to see a reduction in the volume of overtime being worked. I hope that my hon. Friend and all hon. Members will read the very informative article published in my Department's Gazette this month.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest total of registered unemployed.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest figures for unemployment; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest figures for unemployment; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current level of unemployment.
At 13th April, 1,387,484 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain.While the seasonally adjusted level of unemployment has fallen for the seventh successive month, the prospects for a major improvement depend in large part on international co-operation on economic growth. The recent Budget measures show the Government's willingness to aid concerted international economic expansion. At home, the special employment measures are playing an important part in keeping down the unemployment level.
Instead of hiding the true unemployment figure of nearly 2 million with "phoney" job creation schemes, why do not the Government abandon their Socialist policies of job destruction and provide the real incentives which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has again failed to provide, so that we can have some jobs created?
There is nothing "phoney" about measures that we introduce which enable people to provide services in this country and to do useful constructive work, as opposed to drawing unemployment benefit.As for the Budget measures, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be among the first to appreciate that an increase in purchasing power of about £2·5 billion would stimulate some activity, leading to employment. The direct Government expenditure in construction and in the National Health Service arising from the Budget will certainly feed into additional employment.
Will not the Minister confirm that his listening, together with his colleagues, to the cries from the Opposition about curbing the money supply and cutting back the public sector borrowing requirement, and having cuts in social services and so on, resulted in a large part of the unemployment total? In order to get out of this position, does he agree that he should now turn his attention to restoring those cuts in public spending and to reducing the number of hours that people have to work? As Socialists, my right hon. Friend and his colleagues should be planning the dole queue out of existence and not listening to the Opposition.
One of the major factors in the limitation of public expenditure, as I recall it, was the decision that arose from listening not to Opposition Members but to the International Monetary Fund.
Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the Manpower Services Commission can comply with the obligation imposed on it to offer a job opportunity to each young person leaving school between now and next Easter?
That obligation, which we have laid upon the Manpower Services Commission, requires an extremely ambitious programme to be developed very quickly indeed. It is my belief that, given the co-operation of trade unions, employers, local authorities, and a number of other bodies which have a very important contribution to make, we can achieve that aim and in doing so play a major part in reducing the problem of youth unemployment.
Will the Minister use this opportunity to describe Cornwall's unemployment figures? Will he indicate what would be the effect in the area of Chacewater, in my constituency, of the closure of Wheal Jane mine? Will he by 12 noon tomorrow tell the Secretary of State for Industry how much it will cost the Department if that mine, in the final analysis, is not rescued?
I cannot give a detailed answer to that question without notice, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State for Industry works very closely with me in examining the employment effects of decisions which either he or I can implement by aid from our Departments.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the need for international co-operation. Will he recall that at the recent Heads of Government Summit there was discussion about programmes of work sharing? Is his Department engaged on any programmes in this area? If so, will he bring to the House any suggestions on this matter?
I have had discussions with the CBI and the TUC about ways in which work sharing might be brought about, including ways that might arise from a reduction in overtime working or a shortening of the working week. I very much hope that we shall have the co-operation of employers and unions in achieving changes along those lines.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is very deep and growing concern in the whole nation about the high and sustained level of unemployment? Is he aware that the policy of the Government has been optimistic, totally unjustified and totally ineffective in reducing unemployment? Is he further aware that, given the record of the Conservative Government on unemployment, compared with the present Government's record, the remarks of the Prime Minister at the weekend were contemptible, to say the least?
I can only imagine that the right hon. Gentleman has not studied the unemployment statistics over the past six months. There has not been a steady level of unemployment. There has been a falling level of unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman invites the House to make a comparison between the record of the Government and that of the last Conservative Government. It behoves him to recall that in 1971, 1972 and 1973 there were fewer people employed in this country than there are today.
But is it not a fact that for every day the Government have been in office, 600 people have joined the dole queues?
There have been considerable redundancies in this country. These have been offset as a direct result of actions taken by the Government. But anyone imagining that it is possible to run the economy of this country in a way which will totally avoid redundancies, on the basis of policies advocated by the Opposition, can in no way have examined objectively what is happening in our economy.
Has my right hon. Friend been able to make an estimate of the numbers of job opportunities which should be created by the aid given by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to small businesses?
No, we have not been able to make a precise calculation, because that depends very much on the uptake. But I hope that the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and those which I announced in March this year, will be used to the utmost by those concerned to bring down the levels of unemployment. It is the case now that we are not short of schemes to deal with unemployment, or of offers of aid, but we must make a more serious attempt to ensure that such measures as are available to reduce unemployment are used to the hilt.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people were unemployed in the United Kingdom at the most recent count; and how this figure compares with the figure in the comparable month in 1974.
At 13th April 1978, 1,451,758 people were registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom, compared with 607,602 in April 1974.
In view of the fact that unemployment has more than doubled since this Government came into office, and since there was a big increase in unemployment under the last Labour Government, how can the Labour Party claim to care about unemployment?
The number of people in employment is now at a higher level than on average under the last Government. The factors which have led to the increase in unemployment—these are matters of very grave concern to government—take into account the vastly greater number of people now seeking work and the larger numbers leaving school. These are problems which have to be dealt with against the background of a world trading slump of enormous proportions.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that although the decrease this month is welcome, the unemployment level in the Northern Region is still far too high? Does he also agree that if, by any misfortune, the Conservative Party gets to power and does as it has promised—cuts out temporary employment subsidy, and gets rid of regional incentives—the level will be far worse?
I certainly agree that the unemployment level in the Northern Region is very worrying. The measures that we have introduced there are certainly none too ambitious. I hope that we shall see them used to the hilt. If some of the policies advocated by the Conservatives had been adopted, the situation would be totally intolerable.
What work is going on within the Department and within the Government to look at the long-term implications of microvalve work, greater technology, and so on, which is, of course, at the root of many of our unemployment problems?
I have taken individual responsibility for directing work on this matter. In the long term I think that the effect of much more capital-intensive processing in manufacturing industry will be a major factor which may reduce the number of people who can be employed in manufacturing in this country to possibly as few as 25 per cent. of our present working population. We are examining this in various areas. It is one of the factors that we are feeding into discussions at NEDC. It is also one of the factors that will help us analyse the effect of the sector working party reports.
Will not my right hon. Friend deplore with me the partisan attitude that has been adopted by the Conservative Opposition on this serious problem of unemployment, which is an international problem where international and national attitudes should be adopted?
It is not unknown for partisan attitudes to be adopted in various parts of the House. But those who wish to criticise adversely measures adopted to deal with unemployment are under some obligation to propose measures which they think will be more effective. It is certainly the case that this is an international problem. On standards of reliable international comparison, this country is tackling the problem much more successfully than are many others.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will give in the Official Report a breakdown of the March estimate in the Department of Employment Gazette showing that unemployment could be reduced by 600,000 at a cost of £1,000 million by reducing the pension age of men to 60 years.
Yes, Sir. I am arranging to publish in the Official Report details of the estimates and the assumptions on which they are based.
Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that we are in a very dangerous employment position, with an estimated increase in the potential labour force of about 1 million in the next seven years and in the same period probably the loss of the equivalent of 1 million jobs due to advancing technology if we are to see the sort of national growth that we all hope to see? In those circumstances, does my hon. Friend feel that there is now urgency to move towards earlier retirement, as this has a considerable contribution to make?
I am aware of my hon. Friend's long-standing concern about this problem. Indeed, I read his interesting article about in in Labour Weekly at the weekend. As my right hon. Friend has already said, however, he has been having discussions with both the CBI and the TUC on work-sharing measures generally. Obviously, early retirement must figure in discussions of that sort. But, however socially desirable it is to do that—and indeed. I accept the kind of analysis that my hon. Friend has broadly made—inevitably it would add very substantially to net costs at present.
In view of the Government's poor record of forecasting future trends in employment, what steps has the Department taken to improve its forecasting techniques, and how far ahead does it now feel that it can predict levels of employment with confidence?
I think that our forecasting has been quite accurate in the past. Indeed, I think that the forecasts that we have given for at least the next five years are all on the record and they can be tested in due course. However, we have already made it clear that we can expect the net increase in the labour force to be about 170,000 a year for probably the next four or five years.
Following is the information:
The March Department of Employment Gazette gave estimates of the employment and financial effects of lowering the national insurance retirement age for men to 60, derived as follows.
There are 1·4 million men aged 60–64; over 1 million in employment, about 130,000 registered as unemployed. If the same proportion of the economically active retired at 60 as at present retires at 65, after adjustment to the new retirement age fewer than 450,000 would still be working, the majority working part-time.
This would release 750,000 full-time jobs. Assuming a replacement rate of 75 per cent., with 80 per cent. of the replacements coming from the unemployment register, 450,000 of the registered unemployed would find work. Assuming also that almost all the unemployed aged over 60 retired, the unemployed register would fall by nearly 600,000. The costs would be:
Pensions*: over £1,800 million.
+Loss of income tax and national insurance revenue (net): over £300 million.
-Savings in unemployment benefit and social security payments (net): nearly £1,000 million.
Net cost: nearly £1,200 million per year.
* At present pension levels, assuming the deferment age limit was lowered by five years.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further action is proposed to reduce the number of working people who are unemployed.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further measures he intends to introduce to reduce unemployment.
I announced in the House on 15th March details of the expanded programme of special employment and training measures with which we shall be seeking to mitigate the effects of high unemployment over the coming year. The special measures are still developing. We shall keep under review their scope and effectiveness and shall continue to provide special support for job and training opportunities so long as unemployment remains high. At the international level, the Government are engaged in discussions on a concerted strategy to stimulate economic growth.
I recognise the good work that the Government have done, but will my right hon. Friend encourage his Cabinet colleagues to make the reduction of unemployment the Government's main priority in the months ahead, as it is causing deep anxiety to young people leaving school who go straight on to the dole queue?
I shall give my hon. Friend that undertaking, not merely because of the anxiety that unemployment is causing young people but because I believe that it is the only way, in the long run, of enabling all people who wish to work to provide the goods and services that will enable he and I to achieve the social objectives for which we have campaigned.
In view of the demands of the micro-electronic revolution and of the need, which presumably the Government accept, to improve productivity to the best international standards, is it not clear that further and drastic measures will be necessary to alleviate unemployment in the next 10 years or more?
We shall need to have a dynamic manpower policy to cope with the new phase of the technological revolution. That means that we have to find ways of enabling more people to work in service industries in relation to those who work in manufacturing industry. That means findings ways of transferring some of the wealth that is being created by modern capital-intensive manufacturing industry into an effective demand for services.
Bearing in mind my right hon. Friend's earlier replies about technology and industrial change, does he agree that it is imperative that the Government begin to examine a strategy including continued education, training and work experience for young people, paid education and training leave for those in employment and the possibility of early retirement and work sharing, as well as the other measures that he mentioned?
I accept that all those factors have a part to play, but that is especially so of training measures for young people. A changing manpower situation will mean a requirement for many people to retrain to obtain employment and, therefore, a far greater flexibility of approach.
Is not the best way of transferring the wealth created by capital-intensive industries into a demand for services a reduction in direct taxation?
No, not at all. One area that I believe has a major part to play is that of public services. If direct taxation contributes to improving hospital and school services and other public services, it will contribute to greater employment in those areas.
Special Temporary Employment Programme
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied that the special temporary employment programme involves less paperwork and administration that the job creation scheme; and if he will make a statement.
I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that although paperwork and administration involved in the running of the special temporary employment programme will be slightly more than for the job creation programme, they will be kept to the minimum consistent with both making a success of the programme, and accounting properly for the use of public funds.
Is the Minister aware that that is a disappointing answer? Is he further aware that more than three months elapsed between the application of the Christchurch Council for job creation scheme assistance for work on the restoration of Highcliffe Castle, in my constituency, and the actual start of the scheme? As the Council has now applied to the Manpower Services Commission for an extension of that scheme from the original 13 weeks, will the Minister do his best to ensure that this is expedited as quickly as possible?
I shall certainly draw the attention of the Manpower Services Commission to that example.
Will my hon. Friend refute the suggestion that the job creation programme was top-heavy with either administration or paper work? Is it not the case that, on average, no more than 3 per cent. was spent on administration and a most marvellous job was done? Will he encourage those responsible, both for STEP and the youth opportunities programme, to do their best to ensure maximum local involvement in the running of these schemes under the area boards that have been set up?
I confirm that the cost of administration was only 2 per cent. It has been increased to only 2·2 per cent. That is a very good record. Certainly, we as a Government want as much local involvement as possible both in the youth opportunities programme and STEP.
Is the Minister aware that certain East Anglian firms have been sent mimeographed letters saying that their applications for temporary employment help cannot be dealt with for at least 10 weeks? Since this means that in many cases the jobs have disappeared before the Department gets round to trying to save them, will he do something about it? Does he realise that if he does not do so it will be a case of trying to deal with the disease after the patient has died?
It appears that there is a plea from the Conservative Benches for additions to the number of public servants dealing with this problem.
Manpower Services Commission
asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met the Chairman of the Manpower Services Commission.
I last met the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission on 24th April 1978.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that much as the youth opportunities scheme is welcome, there is very great fear that the complete insensitivity of the Manpower Services Commission to local needs is jeopardising the Government's objective of giving every young person some opportunity this year? Can he tell us when the MSC will issue specific guidelines to local authorities and voluntary organisations about how to set up co-operative schemes and when every local area in the country will have a local committee so that local needs can be taken into consideration?
I can tell my hon. Friend that guidelines and handbooks covering all parts of the youth opportunities programme are now available from the MSC's area offices. Many local authorities have already taken the initiative—which we welcome—in setting up local committees to assess needs and plan projects. It has always been our intention, in dealing with the Manpower Services Commission, that the area boards should be guided and should work in close co-operation with local area committees, since although there is a wide scope within the youth opportunities programme to institute various elements of the programme, it should be done in a way that is highly sensitive to local needs.
Has the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission explained to the Government how the Commission will overcome the shortage of trainers and instructors in order that the youth opportunities programme can get off the ground fully in September? Can he say how much information the Government have about the way in which the Commission is approaching employers for the use of their premises for training purposes?
With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the MSC is funded to employ about 8,000 adults—preferably recruited from the ranks of the unemployed—to instruct and supervise in the youth opportunities programme. This relates to the second part of the question, because in trying to develop certain of the projects within employers' premises—particularly the work experience schemes—we have worked out with the MSC a number of direct approaches to employers as well as a general advertising campaign. We are hoping for a response that will enable the doubling of the present work experience element of the programme.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of the MSC, will he ask him why the television advertising and leaflets for the engineering training schemes depict only men, thereby giving the impression that only men may apply?
I certainly shall. It was not my intention that any advertising by the MSC should give the impression that there is a bias in favour of men.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals he has for protecting journalists from the imposition of a closed shop.
The application of closed shop agreements to journalists is one of the matters which under the terms of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976 must be covered in the draft charter of Press freedom which my right hon. Friend is required by that Act to prepare and submit to Parliament. However, I cannot yet say when it will be possible to lay a draft before Parliament.
Does the Minister recognise the need for protection of this kind and that this need is growing? When does he propose to introduce his draft Press charter, which has been hanging on for a very long time?
As regards the time, I think the House will recognise that it made sense to wait until the Royal Commission reported. It reported in June, since when I have personally conducted a very long series of consultations with the many representatives of both sides of the industry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to give full consideration to all the views that have been expressed to me. I still wait to have consultations with the TUC, the CBI and the Press Council before the consultations can be concluded and before, therefore, we can propose a draft to Parliament.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the best protection that journalists had was when the present Government and this House repealed the stupid attempts by the Conservative Party to put the trade union movement in shackles? However, in the context of the talks on the charter, will my hon. Friend say whether the Newspaper Publishers Association has yet been able to speak with one voice on this important topic?
With regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, it is certainly true that what we have done is basically to restore the law to what it was before 1971. Attempts in the 1971 Act to outlaw the closed shop had the opposite effect and resulted in the loss, in 1972, of 24 million working days due to disputes.On the second part of the question, no, the Newspaper Publishers Association has not been able to speak with one voice. One of the difficulties that we have experienced has been that instead of listening to one voice from Fleet Street, we have had to listen to another.
Is the Minister satisfied that there is no restriction on bona fide journalists gaining entry to an appropriate trade union?
I am not aware of any.
Will the Minister confirm that any charter laid before this House will contain complete freedom of access for all people to the Press at all times and, secondly, that there will be an undertaking that a journalist can join a union or not join a union according to his choice? When will this be laid before the House, because no other charter will have a majority here?
I think that I have indicated the difficulties with which we are faced with regard to timing. My right hon. Friend is anxious that we should come before the House with the draft charter as soon as practicable.On the two specific points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, yes, access to the Press will be one of the matters that will be covered and is required by the Act to be covered by the charter. It would be rather premature for me to reflect now on precisely what the charter will say. On the second point—the proposal that the charter should contain a right for every journalist to belong or not to belong to a trade union—again, obviously that will have to await the charter, but I would personally find it very difficult to reconcile that with the debate in both Houses that led to the concept of a Press charter and, indeed, the terms of the parent Act itself.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what recent studies have been made by his Department into the incidence and scope, as well as the numbers involved, in unemployment lasting more than six months in the outer boroughs of the Greater London area; and how many people were in this category at the latest date for which official figures are available.
At January 1978, 25,059 people who had been unemployed for over six months were registered at those employment offices corresponding most closely with the Outer London boroughs. No special studies have recently been made into the features of long-term unemployment in the outer London boroughs.
Although Greater London has never had to endure the terrible unemployment figures of the North-East and North-West, is it not a colossal indictment of the present complacent and incompetent Government that for the first time deep-seated, long-lasting structural unemployment is actually now a feature in the outer London boroughs, including my own area of Harrow, as well as inner London? When will the Government really tackle this problem as well as national unemployment?
The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating very considerably the problems of the outer London boroughs. I accept, of course, that there are pockets of high unemployment and that there are structural problems, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is exaggerating very considerably.Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will ask his friends at County Hall, who now control that place, whether they think that their suggestion of axing about 10,000 public sector jobs will help employment prospects in London.
Is my hon. Friend aware that much of the responsibility for stripping London of its employment lies with the Opposition and the policies that they carried out when in power, including the sort of asset stripping that went on left, right and centre within London? Can my hon. Friend guarantee that none of the policies of his Department will inhibit the attempts of local authorities in London to bring industry back?
I certainly would not dissent from my hon. Friend's opening remarks. As for guaranteeing the future, I think that most of the efforts of my Department in this respect have been very helpful to London.
Closed Shop Agreements (Public Sector)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment in which industries in the public sector there are closed shop agreements; and whether he will make a statement about the policy of the Government towards the closed shop.
The information is not readily available. The Government have consistently maintained a position of neutrality on the subject of closed shop agreements. We believe that whether they should be introduced—and, if so, in what form—is a matter to be determined by agreement between the employers and trade unions concerned.
Is the Minister aware that in the publicly owned British Railways 40 employees have been dismissed for refusing to join a trade union and that two more were dismissed when they resigned from their trade unions? How does he reconcile the Government's policy of neutrality towards these matters with Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that each worker shall have the right to free choice of employment?
I sometimes wonder whether the hon. Gentleman listens, because we have been having this dialogue over many months now and I have repeatedly pointed out to him that these are matters on which it would be quite inappropriate for the Government to interfere. I have said repeatedly that we would hope that where union membership agreements were entered into they would be handled in a flexible and tolerant manner—[Interruption.] It would be quite inappropriate for the Government to be dictating to any employer or trade union, in a way that the Opposition tried to do and failed, about whether or not they should enter into union membership agreements.
With regard to the operation of the closed shop, has my hon. Friend looked into the situation at Thomson Regional Newspapers, where the journalists are at present subject to a lock-out? Would it not seem that the militant tendencies in this industry at least belong essentially to the employers?
Of course, it should be recognised that there are difficulties with employers as well as with trade unions in this respect. But, in the particular case that my hon. Friend has mentioned, I think that it would be equally inappropriate for me to comment or to seek to intervene in that situation. If the services of ACAS can be helpful, they are available to be called upon.
Will the Minister say how the neutrality which he and the Government say they have towards a closed shop differers from the neutrality of Pontius Pilate washing his hands?
The hon. Gentleman ought to try to think of something original. I think that that is at least the second time that he has tried that. The Government's position, in accordance with our General Election manifesto commitment, was that we would revert the law to that which applied before the Industrial Relations Act 1971, and that is the law which has applied for many years in this country, and that is the law now. I have pointed out—and I regret that I have to do it again—that when the Opposition tried to outlaw closed shops, closed shops flourished in spite of that. The only result was that the Conservatives produced the most massive loss of working days due to industrial disputes that we have suffered since the General Strike.
Employment Protection Act
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he remains satisfied with the operation of the Employment Protection Act.
Yes, but I am continuing to keep the working of the Act under review.
Is not one of the most worrying aspects of the Act the difficulty that small employers have in meeting its maternity requirements? Does the Minister agree that there is a case for relaxing the requirements, especially for small employers who engage principally female clerical labour?
This was one of the matters that was fully discussed when the Bill, as it then was, was before the House. In response to various moves made by hon. Members and the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) we tried to help smaller employers by making significant changes in the scheme to arrange for central funding rather than for individual employers to have to carry their own burden.
How can my hon. Friend be satisfied with the working of the Act when we have had two Bills frustrated by the Opposition—Bills that are destined to try to put the Act right and to have workers consulted on what is happening in a factory? Is my right hon. Friend aware that although the Conservative Party is always talking about law and order it is conniving at producing more Grunwicks and preventing the two Bills to which I have referred passing through the House?
It would be unfortunate if our satisfaction with the Act misled the House into thinking that we do not think that some reforms are necessary. I believe that the reforms that have been put before the House would be a significant strengthening of the Act to enable it to deal with the sort of problems of which we have had experience in recent months. I regret that the Opposition have deliberately obstructed the passage of those Bills.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the answer to the Question about the Act, together with the answers that have been given throughout the afternoon by his fellow Ministers, shows that the Government are completely bankrupt of ideas of how to deal with the unemployment situation? Does he realise that even those on his own side of the Chamber, let alone the TUC, are reduced to silence on this issue? The only person who can say anything is the Prime Minister, and he seeks to mislead everyone.
I am sure that that wild, generalised statement will not be much help to the House. It might have been a little more constructive if the right hon. Gentleman had told the House, as we have repeatedly asked him to do, what changes in the Act he and his party would consider necessary. At some time he may care to tell us.
asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Maidstone.
I have at present no plans to visit Maidstone.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the sharp deterioration in the quality of life in Maidstone and in Kent in the past five years, due to the fact that the present Government have not given Kent its fair share of Government expenditure? Is he aware that our hospitals are delayed, our motorways are delayed, north-south roads are delayed and environmental matters, such as the production of TDI and other chemicals, are not producing new jobs but are spoiling people's lives?
I note that the hon. Gentleman, in contradistinction to the Opposition Front Bench, seems to believe that we should be spending more public money on hospitals and on roads. Having listened to him, I feel rather like the British general who, in Singapore, found that his guns were facing the wrong way.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his public engagements for 2nd May.
In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an Audience of Her Majesty The Queen.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people will welcome the Government's decision to send the Chief of Defence Staff to Peking to try to forge closer defence links with that country? Is he aware that many will also welcome the forthright statement made by the Chief of Defence Staff, appropriately enough on May Day? Will he take this opportunity to make it clear to those in his party who echo the Kremlin line that he approves of the way in which Sir Neil Cameron is doing his job and that he will do nothing to prevent his continuing to do his job?
It is true that the Government seek to improve relations with China. That has been why a number of Ministers and others have visited that great country in recent years. We shall continue to improve relations with China, but I emphasise that that will not be at the expense of our relations with any of the other major countries in the world. I do not believe that that will be the policy of either party.
When taking an Audience of Her Majesty this evening, will my right hon. Friend ask Her Majesty whether it is possible for her to give more favourable consideration to attending more often the Football Association Cup Final?
The discussions that take place between the Prime Minister and the Queen are, by all the usual conventions, kept confidential. The answer to my hon. Friend's supplementary question is "No, Sir".
Why does the Prime Minister not stand up for what Sir Neil Cameron said this week? Why did he not stand up for the defence chiefs last week? Why does he not do more to sort out the pro-Soviet grout, on his side of the House? Are not those hon. Members the real mischief-makers in defence affairs?
I am not quite sure what the right hon. Lady is intending concerning relations with the Soviet Union, but a year ago, after her visit to China, I understood her to say that she did not wish to see relations with the Soviet Union impaired. No more do I. I hope that that is still her view.As for standing up for what has been said, I gather that Sir Neil Cameron was responding to a spontaneous toast by the local comander of the unit that he was visiting, and that he made an unscripted and impromptu reply. In case there is any misunderstanding, or in case the Conservative Party wishes to change the constitutional conventions, I repeat that the formulation of British foreign policy is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Ministers. The remarks made by Sir Neil Cameron on this occasion should not be regarded as altering, extending, modifying or changing in any way the present relationships between Britain and China or between Britain and the Soviet Union.
Will the Prime Minister, therefore, say whether he supports Sir Neil Cameron or not?
This is a matter in which there is a constitutional relationship between the Chiefs of Staff and the British Government. I certainly should not enter into that kind of discussion with the right hon. Lady on this matter. What is important in our relations with the Soviet Union, which the Opposition do not seem to take very seriously, on occasion, is that we should continue to work for detente and for a measure of disarmament. If the Opposition do not wish that, they have changed their policy since the right hon. Lady put it forward as her policy a year ago.
Does my right hon. Friend think it coincidental that over the past few weeks there have been many attempts to drive a wedge between the Government and the Services? Will he say that, whatever his general views, the views expressed by the Defence Chief in Peking were unwise, to say the least?
I think that the various things that have blown up over the last few weeks have been coincidental. I do not think that Sir Neil Cameron went out of his way, because he has made only one public speech on this matter, to which no one would take any exception at all. I think that he made one or two remarks which, as the Opposition spokesman on defence said on the radio at 1 0'clock, might have been phrased a little differently, but that is an entirely different matter. I do not think that the right hon. Lady is helping our relations with both these Powers by putting the kind of question that she has been putting this afternoon.
asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements for 2nd May.
I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley).
As the Prime Minister betrayed the Armed Forces of the Crown in his statement last week about their pay settlement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—will he now not betray their professional head and give a clear statement today—preferably now—that he gives unequivocal support to the views expressed in China by the Chief of the Defence Staff?
The Chief of the Defence staff said that he was speaking on military matters, not on political questions. In so far as he was speaking on military matters, of course he would have the support of Her Majesty's Government. However, in so far as he was speaking on political matters, it is for him to support the policy of Her Majesty's Government.
Be careful what you say, Bob.
Does my right hon. Friend understand that, as a result of earlier exchanges, at the next election the Leader of the Opposition will jettison "The Right Approach" in favour of Mao Tse Tung's "Little Red Book"?
I note that there is a difference in the right hon. Lady's attitude according to which Communist regime she happens to have visited. Both Yugoslavia and China are in her good books. She has visited both countries. The Soviet Union is not in her good books. She has not yet visited it. I do not know whether her opinion will change if she does, but I promise her that my opinion will change about neither of these States according to whether I visit them or not. Neither of them fits my concept of the way in which this country wants to go.
If there is to be this burgeoning planned friendship with the Soviet Union about which the Prime Minister is talking, what does he have to say about the fact that there are three Russian tanks for every NATO tank at the door of Central Europe at the moment?
I have as much to say about that, which is not related to my official engagements for today, as I have said on earlier occasions, namely, that I think that it is a source of considerable disquiet. I have often said that the Soviet Union, by building up its armed forces in this way, is undoubtedly adding to the tension that exists. But that is nothing to do with picking and choosing between various Communist regimes, which the right hon. Lady is seeking to do.
Could my right hon. Friend leave aside for the moment the urgings of the Opposition and, in the light of what Sir Neil Cameron said, state the Government's overall position on the possibility of arms sales to China?
I could not do that in reply to a question this afternoon. A number of considerations have to be borne in mind and they are being taken into account now. There has been no formal discussion on this matter with the Chinese.
For once, my question relates to the Prime Minister's engagements today. Could he fit in one further engagement today and listen to the regional election results tonight on the radio from Scotland and note the profound defeat that the Labour Party will have at the hands of the Conservatives?
Unfortunately I cannot get Scotland on my set. When I tried to listen to the news on the set in my hotel in Glasgow early this morning, all I could get was punk rock music.
asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet the EEC Heads of Government.
I expect to meet the Heads of Government of some of the member States of the EEC at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Washington on 30th and 31st May. I shall also be attending a meeting of the European Council in Bremen on 6th and 7th July.
Does the Prime Minister remember his promise that there would be a fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy? As the British taxpayer will soon be paying about £1,000 million a year, net, into the Common Market budget, and with British food production at a lower level than it was five years ago, will he admit that he has totally broken that promise to the British people?
The common agricultural policy has been changing throughout the lifetime of this Government, beginning with the original premiums in respect of beef which were introduced some time ago, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is fighting for further changes now. That ought to have the approval, not the censure, of the hon. Gentleman, especially as we are trying to keep down the structural surpluses which are disfiguring Continental agriculture at the present time.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the EEC Heads of State, will he discuss with them how they can bring pressure to bear to modify the hard-line stance of Israel on the Middle East negotiations and give further support to President Sadat's initiative?
I shall certainly see whether there is any desire to discuss this matter at the next meeting of the European Council, but it is rather a long way away—6th and 7th July. I hope that the discussions that President Carter is now about to have with Prime Minister Begin and the further discussions that may take place between Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat will lead to some movement and progress on this matter before we meet in July.
If the Prime Minister is going to boast that he will prevent the Common Market from not allowing daily doorstep deliveries of milk, when he knows perfectly well that the Common Market has no intention of stopping them, will he be careful not to remind his Common Market colleagues of the way in which he once boasted that he would prevent British trawlers from being chased out of Icelandic waters?
I was not aware that I had boasted about anything of that sort. As for the Milk Marketing Board—I hope that the Opposition are in agreement—we should not allow ourselves to be driven to make fundamental alterations to the Board. That is exactly what the Minister of Agriculture is trying to do now.
In regard to the Prime Minister's earlier answer, does he accept that all on the Government side of the House will warmly welcome the firm statement of good will towards the Soviet Union that he made, reaffirming that it is the intention of the Labour Party to pursue with the utmost vigour the whole question of nuclear disarmament—
Order. This Question is about the EEC Heads of Government.
Chief Of Defence Staff (Speech)
(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he authorised the Chief of the Defence Staff to make a speech in Peking on 1st May; and whether he will make a statement.
The Chief of the Defence Staff's visit to China is an official visit the object of which is a broad exchange of views on defence matters. It is being made in response to an invitation extended to his predecessor.The remarks made by Sir Neil Cameron in Peking yesterday were in reply to a speech of welcome by the commander of the Chinese Sixth Tank Division whose units he was visiting. The question of my authorising what were impromptu remarks therefore did not arise.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, at a time when the Tory Party is deliberately seeking to incite disaffection amongst members of the Armed Forces for party political purposes, it is more important than ever that serving officers should adhere strictly to a constitutional convention whereby they do not announce changes in Government policy?
I can give my hon. Friend an assurance. I am satisfied that Sir Neil Cameron had no intention of changing in any way Government defence or foreign policy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister put the matter in the right perspective in his remarks to the House a short time ago.
Was Sir Neil Cameron incorrect in referring to the Soviet Union as the only potential enemy which our forces in Europe are facing at present? [HON. MEMBERS: "He did not say 'potential'."] I am not interested in what Sir Neil said but in what I say. If Sir Neil Cameron was wrong in referring to the Soviet Union as the only aggressor—if that pleases hon. Members opposite rather than the phrase "potential aggressor"—which our forces are facing, could the Secretary of State remind us which other Power we have in mind as a reason for keeping the large number of forces presently in Europe?
To the best of my information and knowledge, Sir Neil did not say what the hon. Member suggests that he said. Had I been able to advise him, I should have advised him not to use the word "enemy" because it gives rise to the type of misunderstandings that we have seen since then.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has long been secretly whispered by members of the senior council of NATO that they believe that the whole of our strategy should be based upon the military encirclement of the Soviet Union? Would it not therefore seem natural that our Chief of Staff, when visiting Peking, should put up one or two propositions for the sale of British military armaments in order to fulfil a function of that kind? Will my right hon. Friend dissociate himself totally from ideas leading to a strategy of that type? Will he give the House an assurance that it is not our purpose to sell these weapons to China in these circumstances?
From my own experience my hon. Friend could not be further from the truth in supposing that NATO circles are contemplating a strategy of that kind. On the question of the sale of equipment, Sir Neil Cameron has made it clear that he has not, in any sense, gone there in the capacity of salesman. As the Prime Minister made clear, we have had no indications from the Chinese Government about whether they do or do not wish to purchase any, or any particular, equipment. If they do make requests, these will, of course, be considered in line with international obligations.
On behalf of the Opposition I have three questions to put to the Secretary of State. First, will he say whether there is any country, other than the Soviet Union, that poses a conventional and nuclear threat to the peoples of Britain and Western Europe?Secondly, will he confirm that nothing that the Chief of the Defence Staff said in his remarks in Peking was factually inaccurate? Thirdly, will he now give his public support to the remarks of the Chief of the Defence Staff and disavow the propaganda currently emanating from Moscow and from the Kremlin's fifth column in this country?
The hon. Member had the fortune, or misfortune, to hear my views on defence strategy at substantial length in defence debates and in a White Paper. It would be impossible to summarise them in answer to a supplementary question. There is nothing in the impromptu remarks that Sir Neil made that suggests that I should diminish my confidence in him as my chief military adviser as Chief of the Defence Staff.
Would the Secretary of State take time off to explain to some of his Friends below the Gangway what the Warsaw Pact is all about? Does he agree that the Chief of the Defence Staff would have been better advised had he used the word "potential"?
It is always difficult to correct speeches after they have been made. The House should see this matter in the proper and balanced perspective put to the House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Before further damage is done to disarmament, détente and peace, will the Secretary of State repudiate even more firmly and clearly than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just done this provocative war talk, and do that in the clearest way by dismissing this man who, like top civil servants, has no right to open his mouth in public on Government policy and to make new policy in this way?
I should again make it clear that I am quite satisfied that Sir Neil Cameron had no intention of trying to change, modify or in any way alter Government policy. My hon. Friend has somewhat exaggerated his fears that he has about the damage that may or may not have been done to disarmament and other very important matters. I do not feel that that is so. It is not my desire in any way to embellish the considered views of the Prime Minister on this matter.
Order. This is a Private Notice Question, I propose to call two more hon. Members from each side. This subject has had a good run, both now and during Prime Minister's Questions.
Does the Secretary of State recall that in his defence White Paper earlier this year he said:
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that that realistic remark was at least as hostile in its implications for the Soviet Union as anything said by the Chief of the Defence Staff in China?"Theatre nuclear weapons are needed to deter the use of similar weapons by the Soviet Union."
It is only right that the House and the country should take the statement on the Defence Estimates as being the statement of Government defence policy.
Does it not always lead to trouble when politicians start to fancy themselves as military strategists and generals start to fancy themselves as world statesmen?
As two general propositions, there is a lot to be said for both of those suggestions. I do not believe that Sir Neil sees himself in the latter category, and if that supplementary question is an indication on the part of my hon. Friend and his hon. Friends that they renounce the first category, I shall, of course, be very pleased.
In view of the recent remarks by two Labour Back-Bench Members, does the Secretary of State agree with those Labour Right wingers and moderates who state that it is time for the Left wing to say on which side it is? What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the Left wing does not get increasing control over his activities?
I have no anxieties about being taken over by the Left wing or the Right wing of the party. I regard "Left" and "Right" as rather inexact and emotive terms.
There are those like myself who feel that the air marshal was right, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it was unfortunate for Sir Neil to make a political speech on such an occasion? Contrary to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister says, is it not necessary sometimes to choose between different Communist countries depending on whether they have peaceful or aggressive intentions? Will my right hon. Friend advise any generals who make such visits to make such speeches before the toast rather than after?
I should like to make one point absolutely clear. My knowledge of Sir Neil Cameron is such—and this would be borne out by everyone who has known him during a distinguished career—that I know that any suggestion that he was intoxicated could not be further from the truth.
The following Members took and subscribed the Oath: Raymond Whitney Esq., for Wycombe, Archibald Hamilton, Esq., for Epsom and Ewell.
Business Of The House
That, at this day's sitting, notwithstanding the provisions of paragaph 2(c) of Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply), the Motion relating to commercial agents may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock.—[Mr. Graham.]
Bank Holidays (Amendment)
I beg to move.
The purpose of the Bill is to transfer one day of public holiday from Easter to the beginning of May. It is most emphatically not a Bill to provide for a fixed Easter. That is a matter for the Churches, in which politicians should not interfere. However, Easter Monday has no religious significance, and whether it comes early, as it did this year, or late, as it will next year, it comes too early for any likelihood of warm sunny weather, or any possibility of long evenings. My Bill, therefore, would transfer the holiday to the new public holiday in early May which has proved such a disastrous flop this year. Quite apart from the filthy weather, all the attractions for which the Government are responsible were closed to the public, thereby providing a foretaste of the Socialist paradise to come. I do not want to celebrate the Feast of Saint Karl Marx, the man whose teachings have been responsible for fastening tyranny on half the world. Like it or not, however, we have an extra day's holiday in early May. It is at present too short to be of much use, except to provide an opportunity to reflect on the horrors of Communism so well set out in the leader in The Times today. One extra day transferred from Easter would make it worth while for people to take a holiday away from home. A long weekend in early May would be of real benefit to the hotel and tourist industry, the importance of which in our economy is growing rapidly, which is making a major contribution to our balance of payments and which is vital to employment in my constituency and others because it is very labour-intensive. In my constituency the hotel and tourist industry is the only one that offers any hope whatever of reducing the horrifying level of unemployment. At present those operating tourist facilities and hotels have to open at Easter and then shut down again until the summer season begins in about mid-May. If we had a worthwhile public holiday at the beginning of May that was long enough to tempt people away from home, the season might get off to an earlier start. Lengthening the season in this way would spread the incidence of fixed costs. This, in turn, would lower prices and reduce congestion, which would be in the interests both of those who work in the tourist industry and of those who make use of its facilities.That leave be given to bring in a Bill to alter the statutory dates for bank holidays.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Anthony Meyer, Mr. Robert Adley, Mr. Stephen Ross, Mr. Alan Lee Williams, and Mr. Dafydd Wigley.
Bank Holidays (Amendment)
Sir Anthony Meyer accordingly presented a Bill to alter the statutory dates for bank holidays; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday, 12th May and to be printed. [Bill 119.]
Orders Of The Day
[14TH ALLOTTED DAY]— considered
Before I call the Lord President. I must remind the House that the sub judice rule applies to the cases that are still before the courts.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This debate arises out of an incident on 20th April and the ruling which you gave the following day, on 21st April. I have put down an Early-Day Motion, which is still on the Order Paper, that the ruling should not be cited or drawn into precedent. My understanding was that such a motion, having critical implications for you, Mr. Speaker—although we are discussing the reasons for the ruling rather than your personal conviction—should be debated.I am now assured that this is not true, but it would be more convenient that this point should be discussed in the debate because it relates to this issue. If I am called, I should like to speak about the proposition that I have tabled. Because it is somewhat critical of you, Mr. Speaker, does this mean that I am in any way prevented from doing so?
Not at all, not merely because it is critical of me. Nobody would ever be prevented from speaking in such circumstances. But no doubt I would remember it, because I am as human as anyone else.The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) is learned in the law and I am sure that he will keep within the sub judice rule. All I am asking is that everyone should observe the sub judice rule and not refer to the cases that are now before the courts for consideration.
I beg to move,
I shall be very brief in moving this motion. I believe that it would be desirable if we could proceed fairly rapidly, pass the motion and let all these matters be considered by the Committee of Privileges. This is the most orderly and fair way of dealing with the various matters that have been raised by motions upon the Order Paper. It is certainly my belief that the motion we have tabled should and would enable the Committee of Privileges to discuss all the motions that have been put on the Order Paper, to make its comments on them and then report to the House. That also applies to the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon). It is the case that the only way in which the House can criticise the Speaker is when such a motion has been put down for debate. This is the right way to proceed. However, I do not believe that it would be possible for the Committee of Privileges to consider these matters without taking into account Mr. Speaker's ruling on that day and the motion on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for York. Having made clear to the House that this motion is intended to, and in fact does, secure a situation in which all these matters can be properly considered by the Committee, I suggest that the best course of action is for the House to pass the motion as speedily as possible, allow the Committee to look at all the questions and then report to the House. No doubt when that report is made, there will have to be a debate because the matters raised in all the motions, and in my motion, too, are very important for the House. I am not minimising their importance, but precisely because of it, I believe that the best way to proceed is to enable the Committee of Privileges to review the whole situation.That the matter of publication of the Proceedings of the House, other than by order of the House, in so far as the Privileges of this House are concerned and the matter of the application of the sub judice rule during Business Questions on Thursday 20th April be referred to the Committee of Privileges.
We believe that it is the right and proper procedure to refer this whole matter to the Committee of Privileges. The events at business questions on 20th April and what was said on that occasion raise significant issues for the House. They gave rise to two rulings by you, Mr. Speaker, a number of Early-Day Motions and a certain amount of speculation and uncertainty in the media and the Press.At the time of these events, no hon. Member present was aware of any connection between the questions asked by four hon. Members of this House and a particular court case, because no objection was raised at the time and no attention was drawn to the matter. Since then, several opinions have been expressed about the way in which those four hon. Members raised the question. It is not for me to comment on that, because in this case the reference to the Committee of Privileges is the right course. However, there is some urgency here. A number of complex aspects of privilege and the reporting of our proceedings outside this House are raised and should be decided on with a minimum of delay. It is very important that there should be no repetition of what happened on 20th April. Any breaching of our own rules is obviously an extremely serious matter which the Committee of Privileges will have to consider very carefully. But in the case of the sub judice rule, unless this is strictly observed the process of justice itself is in danger. That process is what the rule itself is designed to protect. It is the fundamental principle that we in this House should observe the orders of the court. I always understood that this was fully accepted by the House. In addition to the application of the sub judice rule, there is also the important consideration of security—both personal and national. There may be, in some cases, very good reasons for a court to require anonymity in respect of some witness, apart from any consideration of protecting the judicial process. Even in the absence of any court case or legal proceedings, there are people in the security services whose identity should never be revealed for their own and their families' sake, for their own safety, and because it would be contrary to the public interest. The House attaches much importance to the security of our country. It would be appropriate for the Committee of Privileges to consider the implications of this possibility which, in part, arises from the wider issue that we have to face of the reporting of the proceedings of Parliament by live radio and the question whether the Official Report is to remain the only report exempt from a possible contempt of court. I ask a question of the House, which I am sure will arise in the Committee of Privileges. Ought we not to consider the suggestion that was first made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) in The Times last Thursday that if it transpires that something has been said which ought not to have been said, Mr. Speaker should have a right, a duty or a responsibility to order those words to be expunged from the record? That is one way of dealing with the matter.
At any rate, it should be considered whether some such procedure for protection may be desirable now that the proceedings of Parliament are broadcast.
That would be most dangerous.
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) is entitled to hold that view. The matter was raised originally by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet, and I think that it is a matter for consideration.The Lord President has assured us again, as he assured the House last Thursday, that the motion is drawn in the widest possible terms so that all the circumstances surrounding the events of that day can be considered by the Committee of Privileges, and I have no doubt that it will do so. The assurance of the Lord President was strong enough to enable my hon and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) to feel that it would be right and proper to withdraw the Early-Day Motion which he had placed on the Order Paper in relation to the four Labour Members. All these matters should now be considered by the Committee of Privileges with urgency. Accordingly, we on the Conservative Benches believe that the motion should be accepted.
It is the custom of the House, when it is found that a question of privilege should have precedence over the Orders of the Day, to commit the matter, usually without more ado, to the Committee of Privileges. I believe, however, that in a case such as the present one it is proper and advantageous that the House itself should have the opportunity of expressing a general view before it commits the question of privilege to the Committee of Privileges.The origin of the matter was the issuing of a statement by the Director of Public Prosecutions which said:
that is, of something said in the House—"It is not accepted … that the publication of his name"—
I cannot imagine a more direct assault upon the essential privileges of the House than that proposition. It has from time immemorial been the privilege of the House to say in this place things that would lay the speaker open to proceedings if he said them elsewhere and to say them in this place without any danger of proceedings of any kind being brought on that account. If we did not have that privilege, we would be incapable of serving the purposes for which the House exists, either on behalf of the nation or on behalf of individual constituents, and our own personal responsibilities would be reduced to a very poor thing. When this privilege was first established and defended, it was probably not primarily against proceedings of courts outside or against the consequences of what we said being reported outside that we sought protection. We sought it in the first instance for the security of debate and deliberation amongst ourselves and to secure entire candour in what was said amongst us. However, those days have long passed. Today it is impossible to distinguish between the privilege of hon. Members of the House to speak under privilege here and the right to have what they say here published. For if it were merely our privilege that we might say what we would in this place but what we said could not be reported outside, that would, in contemporary circumstances, serve very little purpose. It seems to me, therefore, to follow that immunity from proceedings for the publication in any natural manner— the reporting in any natural sense of that term—of anything said in the House is an essential part of the privileges of the House and that it cannot be infringed without infringing those privileges. The statement of the Director of Public Prosecutions did exactly that. He said that there would be liability to proceedings outside the House in respect of a publication"would not be a contempt of court, even if it was part of a report of proceedings in the House."
There was nothing in those words which distinguished what is called the Official Report—or Hansard—from other reports. Nor, I submit with great respect, is there any such real distinction. The Official Report enjoys certain privileges—not privilege in the sense in which we are debating it this afternoon—it enjoys a special position by favour of the House. You, Mr. Speaker, have certain duties and responsibilities in regard to the Official Report. However, it is not official in the sense that it is the record of what is decided in the House. That record is the Journal of the House. I do not think, therefore, that it is possible to distinguish between a report in a newspaper of proceedings in the House and a report in the Official Report. The Official Report, by its nature is or purports to be complete. But in no natural sense can a report of a debate which was less than complete, if it was clearly intended as a genuine report of what was said, not be regarded as attracting, logically and necessarily, the protection of privilege. Before this matter goes to the Committee of Privileges, it ought to be said in this place that the threat of proceedings against the genuine publication of what is said in the House is a high and manifest breach of the House's essential privileges. If that breach became established, the value of our privilege of freedom of speech would be gravely impaired. It is the counterpart of our immunity against the outside world that we are under our own discipline. It is the counterpart that we make our own rules, that we enforce our own rules and that we discipline those of our membership who infringe those rules. That is how the question of our rule against reference to proceedings that are sub judice came to be brought into this matter. I say in passing—and I trust that in doing so I am neither infringing the rule nor offering the least degree of disrespect—that I am not clear whether what was said by the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and other hon. Members conflicted with the sub judice rule."even if it was part of a report of proceedings in the House."
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he is getting dangerously near the case in which this very fact is a matter of dispute.
How can we avoid it?
By sending the matter to the Committee of Privileges.
If I may continue my speech—and I shall not detain the House unavoidably—I hope that I may be allowed to refer to the case that is sub judice—not to refer to its content, but to identify the case. I understand it to be the question whether contempt of court was or was not committed by certain other persons, not being Members of this House. I understand that the matter that is sub judice concerns whether there was a contempt of court by other persons doing, saying or publishing certain things. I must confess I cannot see that for an hon. Member to make a statement that does not concern the merits of that case can be a breach of the sub judice rule.However, Mr. Speaker, if I have said anything that offends in that respect, I apologise. My only intention was to indicate that, having the sub judice rule and being conscious of its importance, we must nevertheless be extremely nice in ensuring what does and does not constitute the mention or discussion of matters that are sub judice. As regards the breach in debate of this, that or any other rule of our procedure, it is the duty of hon. Members, to the best of their ability and knowledge and as they are advised at the time, to speak in accordance with the rules of the House; and it is the duty of the Chair, similarly subject, to prevent them from proceeding if they are in breach of the rules. For example, an hon. Member who quoted a speech made in another place, other than by a representative of the Government, would be pulled up by the Chair and reminded that he was out of order in doing so. There is no difference in kind between that intervention in an hon. Member's speech and an intervention by you, Mr. Speaker, or another occupant of the Chair, to point out that he is in breach of the sub judice rule.
It is a difference of degree.
I am not sure that it is easy to distinguish between the degrees of heinousness of a breach of one rule or another.What is open to censure on the part of an hon. Member is not that he lays himself open to being reminded by the Chair that he is breaking one of our rules of debate. We all do that from time to time. He lays himself open to censure if he persists in it; and if he were to persist in it contumeliously, no doubt the House would proceed to disciplinary measures against him. The point that I want to establish is that even if there is a rule of the House that may be broken in debate, that does not annul what has been said up to that point nor place what has been said in a different category, for the purpose of our privilege, from anything else that is said in the House. That brings me to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), which I heard with a frisson of horror, that we might adopt a practice whereby if the rules of the House had been broken or—and I understood the right hon. Member to carry his suggestion further—where an hon. Member was thought by you, Mr. Speaker, or by the House to have mentioned matters that might be against the public interest, the order could be given that his words should be expunged from the record or that they should not attract the protection of privilege. I can think of nothing that would be more dangerous than this approach to our freedom of speech. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you will acquit me of any suspicion of intending disrespect or criticism, but I should like to refer to something you said last Monday. You said:
With the greatest respect, a privilege which cannot be abused is no privilege, for that which constitutes abuse is a matter of opinion and it is part of the privilege of this House and of individual Members to be able to say in this place not only what they could not say outside without risk of process but to be able to say that to which grave objection is taken by every other hon. Member. Unless an hon. Member could do that, or if it were possible for his doing of it somehow to be undone, we would have lost our power to serve those who sent us here. It so happens that, though I did not catch the actual words of the hon. Member for Barking on the relevant occasion, I took some objection, as a matter of taste, to her decision to utilise what I regard as her undoubted privilege. I am not on the matter of sub judice now; I am on the matter of privilege. Speaking loosely, I might have said that the hon. Lady was abusing her privilege. But there is no real distinction in this context between using and abusing privilege, or, if there is, it is a subjective decision—a matter of taste and of no more than of taste."Our privilege is something that was dearly obtained by our predecessors, but if it is abused it will be endangered.—[Official Report, 21st April 1978, Vol. 948, c. 866.]
Is it not a fact that, whereas an accusation can be withdrawn, a disclosure cannot? If an accusation is made contrary to the rules of order, it can be withdrawn. What is to be done about a disclosure which is made contrary to the rules of order?
I am coming to the question of disclosure and retroactivity, but for the moment I am concerned with the non-existence of a real distinction between the use and abuse of our privilege. Indeed, the only distinction is that a use of privilege is that of which hon. Members generally approve and an abuse is a use of which hon. Members generally, or perhaps the organs out of doors, happen to disapprove.
Would the right hon. Gentleman therefore say that he is unable to draw a distinction between an inadvertent breach of privilege, based on ignorance, and a deliberate breach for purposes and motives that may be generally taken exception to inside and outside the House for the very best of national reasons?
I am sure that the use that the hon. Member for Barking made of her privilege—and it was a use of privilege, not a breach of privilege—was intentional. It is of the essence of our privilege that we can use it intentionally and not accidentally. On other hand, I am prepared to believe, and I think it probable, that her breach, if it were a breach, of the sub judice rule was unintentional. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) will be aware that sometimes we in this House go as far as we can until the Chair draws our attention to the fact that we have strayed over the line. It is not unknown for the Chair to be slightly blind and slightly deaf.I address myself now to the question put by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling): an hon. Member has said what, vis-à-vis the outside world, he undoubtedly has unqualified privilege to say; but though it appears that in doing so he has been in breach of the rules of the House, the words are said—nescit vox missa reverti—and they are reported. I maintain that those words said in this House up to the moment when the hon. Member, on the instruction of the Chair, resumed his seat are as much things said in this House as any others. They attract the same privilege in this House and, by parity of logic, must attract the same qualified privilege outside it. Any notion is to be dismissed that we can, as it were, retrospectively unsay that which has been found to have been said contrary to the internal rules of the House. There is a final and recent aspect of this case which is interesting, although perhaps not fundamental. It is the fact that the reporting of this House, due to a decision of the House which I resisted and regret, is now taking place instantaneously as well as subsequently, or, at any rate, is sometimes taking place instantaneously as well as subsequently. If we were to make a rule that the reporting of this House was somehow to be censored—that items which were in contravention of the rules of the House or, still more outrageously, items which if spoken elsewhere would attract proceedings were to be cut out—I shall tell the House what would follow. There would have to be a switch in a certain place not far from here, and the question would be asked "Whose finger on the switch?" I shall describe, although I cannot identify, the individual whose finger would be on the switch. He must be an individual who has an even more profound knowledge of the rules of this House than yourself, Mr. Speaker; who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of what is in agitation in the courts of the land from Land's End to John o' Groats; and he must be a person of such swiftness of perception that he can anticipate the words that are about to issue from an hon. Member's mouth before he has spoken them. This diverticulum of our difficulties we could excise, as I hope we shall excise it, by discontinuing what I regard as an undesirable practice. But we shall still be left with the necessity of defending, in the reporting outside as well as in the saying in this House, our undoubted and historic privilege and of distinguishing completely between the discipline which this House exercises over its Members and the privileges of this House. The discipline which is exercised over Members is not in itself a matter of privilege. It becomes a matter of privilege, or, perhaps more accurately, of contempt, only if there is a breach of the rules of the House which is found to amount to contempt. But in themselves the rules of the House are not rules of privilege; they are internal rules of proceeding. Our maintenance of those rules can in no way impair either our privileges in this House or the implications for the reporting of our proceedings outside. I hope that the Privileges Committee when it takes this matter in hand will be fully aware how profound are the matters upon which its advice is being sought. I hope that it will understand that it is the most objectionable uses of the privilege of this House which are the most vital to its functions. If we go back through the history of this House, we find that very often it was the possibility of things being said in this House which were detestable to those who heard them and to those outside which led to the broadening of our liberties. I would not wish this House, in this year, to be a party to the narrowing of those liberties again.
I agree with almost every word that fell from the lips of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). We have absolute privilege in this place to say and do as we please. There can be no qualification about that if we are to do the work for which we are sent here. Any suggestion that that privilege is qualified in this House by some regard to taste or to objections about security, or any other cause, must be set aside in the general good that flows from the fact that we have this privilege to raise in this place whatever we wish in any way that we regard as responsible, even if that thought is opposed by every other person in the House.We are today debating a matter of great moment. The mere fact that it arises out of what some people may regard as a trivial matter in relation to the disclosure of a particular name does not, in my view, mean that we should underestimate the momentousness of what we are about to discuss. In the great case of Stockdale v. Hansard they discussed the description of a particular book as being obscene in respect of a Committee of this House which was described in the Report of the House as "— by —, printed by Stockdale". It was then printed in a blue book by Hansard out of which arose a libel action. It was out of such small beginnings that one of the greatest debates began in our history about the limits of the privilege of Parliament. I wish to deal with the way in which that issue—an issue which was never finally settled in the nineteenth century and is still open in "Erskine May"—was perhaps settled, I think perhaps inadvertently, Mr. Speaker, by a remark in your ruling of 21st April. May I approach the matter gradually?
I think that would be better for me.
I hope that in the matters I wish to raise I shall not be in breach of any rule of the House or of any sense of your own conduct, Mr. Speaker.What happened on 20th April was that some of my hon. Friends mentioned a particular name. That name was an issue not in the original proceedings—and I do not think that reference to those original proceedings could conceivably be said to be sub judice, because the question is whether it was sub judice of the proceedings which are taking place today. On that matter you have made a ruling that the issue must go to the Committee of Privileges for discussion. I want to say nothing which in any way contravenes your view on that. It must at least be arguable that in the circumstances of the case which is now before the Divisional Court there was a breach of the sub judice rule which we laid down for ourselves. But it is important to distinguish between the rule that we laid down, of which there may have been a breach, and the rule which is laid down by the courts outside for discussion of matters by the public of matters pending in the courts. The courts have a sub judice rule, and one can be in contempt of court by discussing matters which are then currently before the courts, but our rule is a different sub judice rule. If my hon. Friends were in breach of a rule, they were in breach of our rule and not of the rule of the courts. Our privilege is to say whatever we like within the rules of the House, and only within those rules. What I objected to, Mr. Speaker, was that when you came to deal with this matter on Friday 21st April you said:
—and you were referring to the warning given by the Director of Public Prosecutions—"were this warning to be followed by legal action"
"it would not be the first time that the reports of parliamentary debates in the Press had been the subject of proceedings in the courts. As it is stated on page 81 of "Erskine May":
'There is a distinction between the absolute privilege of Members speaking in the House … and the qualified privilege of a publisher reporting words spoken; in the latter case publication of parliamentary proceedings is protected, not specifically by privilege of Parliament, but on the analogy of the publication of proceedings in courts of justice.'
The correct impression of what happened in those days is contained on pages 200 and 201 of "Erskine May" which reads:This principle was followed in the case of Wason v. Walter in 1868, and no claim has been made by Parliament, either at the time or since, that its privileges were infringed by this or any other similar action."—[Official Report, 21st April 1978; Vol. 948, c. 865–6.]
"The House of Commons claims that its admitted right to adjudicate on breaches of privilege implies in theory the right to determine the existence and extent of the privileges themselves. It has never expressly abandoned its claim to treat as a breach of privilege the institution of proceedings for the purpose of bringing its privileges into discussion or decision before any court or tribunal elsewhere than in Parliament. In other words, it claims to be the absolute and exclusive judge of its own privileges, and that its judgments are not examinable by any other court or subject to appeal.
It was the supreme issue in the case of Stockdale v. Hansard that we decided not only what are our privileges but what are the limits of our privileges. There is no contest that we are totally responsible for what goes on within this place. But the issue in Stockdale v. Hansard was how much of that lapped outside into reports, fair reports, of what had happened inside. The House never had any doubt in its own mind about how the issue should be resolved. There were three separate Select Committee reports upon the issue whether privilege extended beyond the confines of the House to reports that were made out side. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Member for Down, South said about there being no difference between Hansard and a report in The Times or indeed on the BBC. The issue must be the same in both cases. I quote from the Second Report of the Select Committee, in which it discussed the possible alternatives. One was that the House could take to itself the power to decide the limits of privilege for reports outside by passing an Act. The recommendation of the Select Committee was:On the other hand, the courts regard the privileges of Parliament as part of the law of the land, of which they are bound to take judicial notice. They consider it their duty to decide any question of privilege arising directly or indirectly in a case which falls within their jurisdiction, and to decide it according to their own interpretation of the law."
I quote, from the debate that followed that Select Committee report, from the speech of Sir Robert Peel, who at the time was Leader of the Opposition and I hope will be thought by those on the Opposition Benches to be of some authority. He said:"The passing of an Act to enable the House for the future to publish its proceedings without having them questioned in a court of law, would, in the opinion of your Committee, be a virtual abandonment of the right which they have no doubt now belongs to this in common with the other House of Parliament, and which ought not, as they conceive, to be surrendered."
Later in his speech he said, in relation to the challenge to that right by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Denman, in the case of Stockdale v. Hansard:"the result is, a firm conviction that the House of Commons has the right to institute free inquiry upon every matter of public concern,—to elicit every fact connected with the subject of inquiry—and to publish the evidence taken, and the conclusions drawn from that evidence, either for the use of its Members, or, if it shall so think fit, for the use and information of the community at large."
He said that he bowed to the Lord Chief Justice's knowledge of the law with deference, but added:"I wish to speak with the highest respect for the person as well as for the station of the Lord Chief Justice."
Earlier he had said:"but when his decisions impugn the privileges of Parliament, I have not only a right, but am bound by duty, to take cognizance of them. I do not believe that his judgment in the case of Stockdale v. Hansard, is maintainable. His direction to the jury, 'That the fact of the House of Commons having directed their printer to publish their Parliamentary Reports, is no justification for the publication, by them, of a Report containing a libel, upon any man.'—I believe to be erroneous."
My understanding, after reading through those debates and the reports that followed, was that the House never resiled from that position. It is true, Mr. Speaker, as you pointed out in your ruling on 21st April, that subsequently in a case in the Queen's Bench, the case of Wason v. Walter, which decided that qualified privilege was attached to fair report of what happened in this place, the Lord Chief Justice said that the courts were entitled to decide what was the limit of privilege outside. He called in aid the decision of Lord Chief Justice Denman. But it is quite clear from our proceedings in this House that we never accepted that. Apart from the historical antiquity of all that, does it really matter in these days? In my submission, it does. It is of grave importance to the proceedings of the House that we make it clear that we, and not the courts, decide what is the limit of privilege. Is it to be said, for instance—and the point has been made by the right hon. Gentleman—that the BBC or the IBA were in contempt of the courts which are discussing this issue today by broadcasting the names that were spoken on Thursday, 20th April? That is a matter of the greatest moment to the broadcasting authorities. It is true that the Attorney-General has said that he does not wish to proceed, but who can say whether an Attorney-General would always take that view? Who can say that he, and he alone, would have the right to prosecute in similar circumstances? It must be laid down that the courts cannot intervene. But there is a wider aspect. We are progressing gradually, and I think unfortunately, to a conflict between the courts and Parliament. There is every evidence over recent years that the courts are bending their muscles in order to take on the Houses of Parliament, either corporately or individually, in deciding where the line must be drawn in determining who is responsible for the liberties of our people. I think that it is absolutely right that the courts, within their proper sphere, should try to draw that line. But it is equally clear that we within our sphere should also know where to draw that line. I believe that it is more important that we should know than that the courts should know, because we are at any rate accountable to the people, as we are elected by them. When we, if we, ever go to the stage of adopting a Bill of Rights—there are those who say that because we have adopted the European Convention we have already done so—what we shall really be saying is not that there is one source which is wiser than another but simply that the decision would be made in one place rather than another, that the decision about what are the limits of statutory authority or power should be made by the courts and not by this House or by Parliament generally. In that situation there are bound to be conflicts. I would not have troubled the House with this discussion of what might be an esoteric point if it were simply a question of this particular issue. I think that the matter can be resolved sensibly and fairly by the Committee of Privileges. What I am worried about, Mr. Speaker, is that the ruling you made on 21st April may prejudice the discussion of some momentous constitutional clash which may emerge in the future, because it will then be said that the whole issue was decided by the statement of Mr. Speaker Thomas on 21st April 1978 that the courts outside have the right to determine the extent of privilege outside, and that therefore it is a matter for the courts to decide. I want to make the position plain by registering my protest now. I hope that in due course the House will have an opportunity of voting and expressing its view and that it will make it absolutely clear that we decide the extent of privilege not only here but outside. If it is thought by any of those who listen to us or read about our discussions that we are asserting a claim to be above the law, I say that we are asserting that claim only to a limited extent, to the extent that it is necessary for us to perform our duties. There is no doubt about our right to that privilege here. The argument has been about that right outside. I end with a statement I found in an account of all these matters called "Printer to the House":"If the right of publication be a privilege necessary for the performance of the functions of the House of Commons, then, like other privileges, it is not liable to question in a court of law. The House of Commons is the exclusive judge of the exercise of it."
"But observe, too, the consequence had Lord Denman's judgment been allowed to stand. The evolution of Parliament from 1840 to the present day would have been rendered impossible. What is the use of a Parliament whose activities cannot be reported?"
On various occasions in the past I have both spoken and voted against sending a motion to the Committee of Privileges because on the whole I take the view that Parliament is not normally at its most dignified when, rushing to the protection of its privileges, it seeks to refer to the Committee comments made by people outside the House. On this occasion I believe that the motion tabled by the Leader of the House is totally justified and one which I hope the House will pass.Whatever our views on the merits of this issue, I do not think that anyone could suggest that there are other than vitally important principles at stake. There are in this one subject two separate issues. There is the issue of the right of the Press to report accurately that which is said in this House, and there is the issue of the way in which hon. Members choose to make use of the privileges of this House. They are two important issues and to my mind they are totally separate. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that this matter started with the statement made by the Director of Public Prosecutions on the evening of 20th April with regard to his advice to the Press as to its right to publish what had been said in this House. With respect, I believe that that was not the commencement but the second stage. The commencement was the decision of hon. Members—their motives from my point of view are irrelevant—under the cloak of privilege to name someone to whom the courts had granted anonymity. These are two equally important but separate issues.
Does the hon. and learned Member not think that to use the phrase "to whom the courts had granted anonymity." when that is the issue before the courts is a little injudicious?
I am using my words carefully. The decision of the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) was clear. It was to use the privileges of this House to name someone to whom she understood anonymity had been granted by the order of a court.Both of these issues are vitally important. My only criticism of the motion would be that it has put the cart before the horse. It is really the question of the conduct on the Floor of the House on 20th April which comes to be considered before the question of publication of what happened. It was for that reason that I, on this first issue, tabled an Early-Day Motion asking that the conduct of the hon. Members during that Question Time be referred to the Committee of Privileges. It was on the assurance given by the Leader of the House last Thursday at Business Question Time that I withdrew that motion. As the Leader of the House made clear, he had tabled a motion in the widest possible terms which, he assured the House, embraced all of the motions standing on the Order Paper. Naturally, I was happy to withdraw my motion I believe that it is essential that the Committee of Privileges should give careful consideration to what happened on that occasion. Mr. Speaker has said in his statement that in his view it was a breach of the sub judice rule. I take the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South that the rules of this House are something totally different from the privileges of this House. The rules of this House are that by which we agree to abide in the conduct of our debates. The privileges of this House are something we claim to ourselves to prevent ourselves from being open to action from outside. Nevertheless, I do not believe that it was ever intended that we should use the cloak of privilege to name people who, for whatever reason, may not have been named in other proceedings in a court of law in this country. It is important that the House, through the Committee of Privileges, should decide its attitude to matters of that kind. The right hon. Member for Down, South said that we cannot abuse privilege, we can only use it. I found it difficult to follow that part of his speech when he suggested that there is no difference here. I would have thought that the main difference must be in the motivation of the person who says the words concerned. For example, if I, by use of the privileges of this House, chose to make an attack on someone's integrity, believing my attack to be justified and to be in the public interest, I am clearly using the privilege which Parliament grants me. If, on the other hand, although I do not believe a word of an allegation that I have been told, I nevertheless choose to make use of the privileges of this House for the purpose of mounting that attack in the justification of which I do not believe and if I am motivated by malice against the individual, to my mind I am abusing the privileges of this House.
The hon. and learned Member is making the same distinction that I sought to make, namely, that the difference is a subjective difference. No hon. Member can know the motives of another hon. Member. We may feel that we know what these motives are and that we dislike the hon. Member and disapprove of his behaviour. But still the distinction between use and abuse remains subjective. I do not think that there is any difference between us.
I accept that the subjective intention of the individual is the difference between abuse or use of privilege. But I think that other people can objectively assess what is the motivation and decide whether that has been an abuse or a use. This is one of the matters which the Committee will clearly have to consider.
The privilege is to say anything on the Floor of the House for whatever motivation one cares. It is obtainable by any hon. Member. Is the hon. and learned Member saying that the Committee of Privileges could rule that in some way the hon. Members who uttered that name were not covered by privilege at the time they did so? If that is not what he is saying, I do not understand what he is saying.
I am not saying that. Obviously the privilege is absolute of the individual. On the other hand, surely in any civilised debating chamber there must be some rules and some control over the abuse of that privilege. The point I am making is that it is a proper matter for the Committee of Privileges to consider whether, taking the right hon. Gentleman's terms, by making use of the privilege those hon. Members have abused that privilege and, if they have done so, what advice should be given to the House by the Committee.Let me give a totally different example. The fact is that for many reasons of a different nature the courts do from time to time grant anonymity to people who appear before them whether they be children of a tender age or people involved in divorce or wardship cases. More recently, Parliament has legislated to give anonymity to both victims and defendants in rape cases. I do not believe that any hon. Member opposite, particularly one of the four who made use of his privilege on this occasion, would for a moment suggest that, were a Member on the Floor of the House to use the privilege of the House for the purpose of announcing the name of either the complainant or the defendant in a rape case, other hon. Members should not make immediate complaint that he had abused his privilege. Therefore, I believe that it is open and possible for the House, through the Committee of Privileges, to assess objectively whether it considers a privilege has been used or abused and, if it has been abused, whether it should make any recommendation to the House.
I do not want to engage in argument across the Floor, but the issue is of crucial importance to the Committee of Privileges. It cannot be said that, simply because we use privilege in a way that is discreditable to us personally, there is any breach of the rules of the House. The only purpose of the Committee of Privileges must be to decide whether there was a breach of the sub judice rule and whether that involves any sanction. That must be at issue when one recollects that, while in the case of the rape victim there is statutory power for the courts to make an order for anonymity, in this case there is no such power.
With respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding what I am saying. I thought that I was conceding that there was a distinction, as the right hon. Member for Down, South said, between the breach of the rules of this House, which in itself is clearly a matter which the Committee of Privileges can look at, and whether the way in which a person chooses to use the privilege of the House is in itself an abuse of that privilege such as would amount to a contempt of the House. It seems to me that both of those issues arise in this case.As the right hon. Gentleman said, the one may be deliberate, the other may be unintentional. All I am saying is that I felt it right to put my motion down on the Order Paper because I believe that there is a serious principle here, a dangerous precedent for the future, if the House does not come to a view as to what attitude it is taking to matters of this kind. I say that without attempting in any way to comment on the seriousness or unseriousness of this issue. I turn to the second matter—the right to publish the proceedings of this House. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to suggest that what the Director of Public Prosecutions had done was clearly an intervening in the privileges of this House. With respect, I would have thought that, while the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for York may well be right in arguing that immunity from all proceedings should take fair and accurate reporting of this House to the Press, it is highly questionable whether that is the legal position. It is therefore vital that this issue should be looked at by the Committee of Privileges. A great deal has been said in the newspapers about the fact that the Press, it is clear, has qualified privilege in reporting the proceedings of the House. The Press seems to assume that to mean that, provided it is a fair and accurate report, no action of any kind can ever come about as a result of their publication. I believe that that is a total misunderstanding of the defence of qualified privilege, which has always been a defence purely to an action by the individual for defamation against a paper. If it be a fact that the position of the Press vis-à-vis Parliament is the same as that of the Press vis-à-vis the courts—let us take that as a starting point—clearly, if the Press chooses to give a fair and accurate report, even if it turns out to be totally false and defamatory, no one can bring action against it. But that does not mean that, by making that fair and accurate report, one may not be in oneself breaking an order of the court. I give the most obvious example. If a court of law in the course of a proceeding orders that the defendant Mark Carlisle shall hereafter be called "Mr. C", and a newspaper announces that evening that in court Mr. Justice So-and-So had announced that the defendant Mark Carlisle should be called "Mr. C", clearly that is a fair and accurate account of what happened. Equally clearly, it would not allow the person concerned to bring action for damages even if it were false. But equally it would be no defence of the order of the court banning the name to say "We have merely announced the order of the court banning the name." Therefore, where we have an area in which there is considerable doubt how wide are the limitations of privilege outside this House, we should say, in fairness and without prejudging the issue in any way, that someone who is then appealed to by the Press for advice as to the legal situation is in a difficult position and may well be misleading the Press if he gives advice different from that which in fact he gave. I totally share the view of the hon. Member for York that not only the extent and limitation of the privilege within this House but also the privilege outside this House of the reporting of matters that go on inside this House should be a matter for Parliament and not for the courts. With that I agree, and it is for that reason and because this individual instance raises that issue in its clearest and starkest forms that I hope that the matter will go to the Committee of Privileges so that it can make its recommendations on the point.
I, too, hope that this matter goes to the Committee of Privileges, and I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) as far as he went. We all ought to be plain that the term "qualified privilege" only applies to the law of defamation and has nothing to do with this issue.I myself was glad that Mr. Speaker gave two rulings, one on the Monday and one on the Friday. I do not blame Mr. Speaker, as a man not trained in the law, for including in his statement on the Friday the phrase "qualified privilege". I think that he was advised and misadvised by other people. I am grateful for and glad of the fact that on that relevant Monday he did not use the phrase. It is really utterly irrelevant to import this question of absolute and qualified privilege into this matter. That, as the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn said, has relevance to the law of defamation, as to whether a person can sue another person about whether he has been libelled or slandered, but it has nothing to do with this particular issue. It would be very helpful to everyone if we now forgot it. I think that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and his predecessors from all parties have forgotten that the late Lord Donovan once chaired a Joint Committee of both Houses, consisting also of Lord Selkirk, Lord Stow Hill, formerly Sir Frank Soskice, QC, of this House House, a gentleman who at the time was described in the report concerned as Mr. Samuel Silkin, Sir John Foster, a QC formerly of this House and now retired, Mr. Charles Pannell, formerly of this House and now a peer, and myself. That Committee produced reports that have never been dealt with. It would have saved an awful lot of trouble if they had been. It isued two reports, one on broad casting and one on the particular issues which are relevant to this case. I am not suggesting for a moment that every single recommendation of that Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament on the publication of proceedings should have been approved by both Houses of Parliament. I am suggesting that they should have been discussed. If I may say so, my right hon. Friend—not alone but with his predecessors on both sides of the House—is responsible for ignoring this issue and forgetting it, hoping that it would never arise. Now it has turned up in a different form. We all expected it to turn up in the form of a private individual suing another private individual because he had been libelled or slandered. It did not turn up like that. If my right hon. Friend says that the late Lord Donovan's Joint Committee did not cover every point, he would be absolutely right. As a Member of that Committee, I would agree with him. It has turned up in the sense of contempt of court, and in that sense, of course, all the law about qualified privilege which relates to defamation has nothing to do with the issue. If one court issues an order and another court issues an alternative order, or a different order, then the mere subject has a clear responsibility, and that is, if he can, to obey them both. If, for example, the High Court says "You must not write it", and this Court of Parliament says "You must not write it", the results are clear. It means "You must not write it or print it or put it on television or on radio." There is no real doubt about that. The problem arises when one court—it does not matter which—says "You must not do it" and the other court says "You shall do it", in effect, or "You may do it." That is where the problem really arises. With what we usually call the courts of law there is no tremendous problem even in that, for ultimately the difficulty can be reconciled by going from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and then to the House of Lords sitting as a court. In the end, it would be found—I notice that one of my lawyer hon. Friends is kindly nodding his head—that the House of Lords, sitting as a court, would say that it either agreed or did not agree with the order of the particular court. That is fine. All the precedents on this matter go back to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, when the House of Lords, sitting as a court, was exactly the same as the House of Lords sitting as a legislative body. Nowadays, the House of Lords sitting as a court is a body of lawyers, and usually it is a very small number of them. It is usually about five, although it can theoretically be a larger number. It certainly could not be the 1,000 or more people who theoretically belong to the House of Lords sitting as a legislative body. The arguments on this question go back well into the seventeenth century, and there is nothing at all which says that the House or Lords' rulings are privileged over those of the House of Commons. We do not really need to argue that particular point. No one would argue that the House of Commons, sitting as a court, can prevail over the House of Lords sitting as a court, or the House of Lords sitting as a legislative body. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) suggests something that I shall translate as meaning "That has"—something I will put in square brackets, as it were—"to do with it". He is entitled to his opinion, and that is actually what this particular bit of law is all about. If he wants to say something else, I have no doubt that he will in due course. But in the end this House of Commons must prevail. There is no question of any contempt of court. There is no question of any contempt by one court of another. In the seventeenth century, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House well knows, Chief Justice Coke used to issue injunctions to prevent the Court of Common Pleas from interfering with his Court of King's Bench. That was decided in the seventeenth century. It was roughly decided—in many cases by force—that the courts of law had to obey the High Court of Parliament, and since the early part of this century the rest of the High Court of Parliament has had to obey this part of it. If necessary, we could pass an Act of Parliament to say what we determined, and, if the House of Lords disagreed with it, this part of the High Court of Parliament, this House of Commons, could still pass it. There is no question as to which shall prevail. I think that is the essential point. It is not whether any other court, in its jurisdiction in this United Kingdom, can issue any order. It can issue any order it likes. But if it is a puisne court, as the lawyers would call it—a court of first instance—it can be overruled by a court of appeal. A court of appeal can be overruled by another court of appeal, namely, the House of Lords sitting as a court of appeal, if it is a case of contempt of court. If it is the House of Lords sitting as a law court, then on a question of the privileges of Parliament it can be overruled by the House of Lords sitting as a House of Lords. If it is the House of Lords sitting as such, it can in the end be overruled by this House of Commons representing the people of the United Kingdom. If that principle does not prevail, then no principle other than that can prevail in a democracy.
It seems to me that there is a good deal of confusion about what is parliamentary privilege, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the defence of privilege in the law of defamation. The defence of privilege in the law of defamation, whether it is absolute or qualified, is a totally different matter from the privilege of the House of Commons. The privilege of the House of Commons is absolute, and it is absolute to this House.I disagree with the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) when he says that it is absolute to the individual. It is not. It is absolute, surely, to the House. It is qualified in relation to the individual, because there are certain rules of the House which put a limit, to a certain extent, on the individual's use of it, in that there may be certain consequences from what the House regards as personal misuse of privilege. But it is very important for the Committee of Privilege to bear in mind this complete difference between the two senses in which we use the same word "privilege". The second issue which appears to me to arise in the case is whether parliamentary privilege affords a defence to an action taken for contempt of court. That is the matter with which we are concerned here. If the newspapers had reported verbatim what was said in the House on a certain afternoon and those reports were not made by order of the House, would the fact that there was parliamentary privilege extend to those newspapers to give them, or their editors, a defence to an action for contempt of court? I am bound to say that I cannot see the logic in the distinction between the privilege which attaches to a correct and verbatim report of the proceedings of this House by order of the House and a correct and verbatim report which is not by order of the House. Why should Hansard be privileged and The Times and The Guardian, reporting exactly the same thing, not be privileged? I think that it would be very difficult for any court to draw the line and to say that there is a distinction. If it were drawn it would certainly be an artificial distinction. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) mentioned the potential clash between the courts of this country and Parliament. The potential clash has always been there. At times it appears to be coming to the surface, and it is avoided, I think, by the good sense of the courts and the good sense of Parliament. Clearly, when Members misuse privilege—I am using the term in its widest sense—it is difficult at the time to gauge whether it has been misused. For example, the late Colonel Marcus Lipton named Philby in this House when Philby was still a member of the Civil Service and living in this country. There were cries of "Disgraceful" and so on in this House. He was using parliamentary privilege. If at the time he had been challenged as to his motivation, I do not know how this House would have divided as to what it thought his motivation was.
Is it not also true that Mr. Richard Crossman, Lord Wigg and the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) raised the whole Profumo affair in exactly the same way on the Floor of this House—in a way that might have been said by some people to be an abuse of privilege?
I think that is right. The only point I wish to make is that it is terribly difficult to establish whether a person has a right or a wrong motivation at the time when he is using the privilege.
I hear the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) say "Or ever". That may well be so. The further one gets away from the event, the easier it is to appreciate whether there was justification for using parliamentary privilege. It must be used very carefully, otherwise it can lead to an immediate clash with the courts.The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn suggested that if any of the four hon. Members who named a person in the House had, for example, heard someone else mention the name of a complainant in a rape case, he or she would have been the very first to claim that privilege was being misused. In my view hon. Members must strike a delicate balance between the use of their absolute privilege and its abuse in such a way as to offend against the proceedings of the courts.
Is there not one distinction between the matters we are discussing now and the type of occurrence where Marcus Lipton named Philby? On that occasion, no prior order of the court was in existence or alleged to be in existence.
I think that there are distinctions in this case.
I must deal with the intervention before it slips my mind. I think there is a distinction between each case. That distinction is there. But I do not think it alters the general principle of the matter. It seems to me that if we had a repetition of the kind of identification that was made in those Questions, we would be heading for a first-class collision with the courts. The courts could not stand by and, as it were, watch parliamentary privilege being used as a cloak to affect its own procedure.That is why this House has to be so careful in the framing of the rules. Where the right hon. Member for Down, South is right is to draw the clear distinction between the rules and privilege. If, in fact, there is the use of parliamentary privilege by an individual Member, and this House as a whole feels that he has misused it—whether it is used as a term of taste or otherwise—then it is up to the House to take action and use its own rules to discipline that Member. But that does not deal with the point at issue in this particular reference to the Committee of Privileges.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), and many other hon. Members, have today said that there was an order of the court. I think we ought to clarify this. This is a matter which is still largely in dispute and about which there is a great deal of doubt. For hon. Members constantly to reiterate—as if it were a fact—that there was an order of the court prohibiting the use of a particular name is prejudicing this debate and the proceedings that may follow from it.
Order. That matter is sub judice at the moment.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) cannot have been listening to me. I said "A court order or a court order alleged to be in existence". In my submission it does not make any difference whether it actually existed or whether the Crown at this stage simply alleges it to exist.