HC Deb 14 April 1964 vol 693 cc232-3
Q4. Mr. D. Foot

asked the Prime Minister whether Her Majesty's Government have now considered the implications of the judgments in the Court of Appeal in the case of Merricks and Another v. Nott-Bower and Others; and whether he will now introduce legislation to amend the law regarding claims for Crown privilege.

The Prime Minister

The law and practice governing the exclusion of evidence in judicial proceedings in the public interest were reviewed in 1956, when the Government came to the conclusion that no amending legislation was necessary. The judgments in the case mentioned in the hon. and learned Member's Question have been carefully studied, but they raise no new issues that were not fully considered in 1956 and the Government remain of the view that there is no need for legislation on this topic.

Mr. Foot

Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the view that was expressed by all three Lords Justices in the Court of Appeal, namely, that information vital to the proper administration of justice was being withheld not because the national security was involved, but simply for the convenience of the Department? In those circumstances, will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the proposal which has been made from time to time, not only by judges but by the Bar Council, to bring the law in England into line with the law in Scotland?

The Prime Minister

The rule under which the Government operates is the rule laid down by the courts themselves in a decision—as the hon. and learned Gentleman no doubt knows—in the House of Lords by Lord Simon in 1942; so that we are operating under a judgment of the courts. The practice in Scotland is not really very different—the practice—from that in England. It is perfectly true that Scottish judges have the right to ask for documents. In fact, they have done so only twice in a hundred years.