HC Deb 18 July 1975 vol 895 cc1921-37
The Solicitor-General (Mr. Peter Archer)

I beg to present a petition from Her Majesty's Attorney-General. As I propose to move a motion in respect of the petition, I ask for it to be read.

THE CLERK OF THE HOUSE read the petition, which was as follows: To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. The Humble Petition of the Right Honourable Samuel Charles Silkin, Q.C., Her Majesty's Attorney-General, who is the Plaintiff in two actions pending in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, the one, 1975 H No. 3389, against Jonathan Cape Limited and Hamish Hamilton Limited, First Defendants; and Mrs. Anne Patricia Crossman, Second Defendant, and Graham Carlton Greene, Third Defendant, and The Right Honourable Michael Foot, Fourth Defendant, the other, 1975 H No. 3480, against Times Newspapers Limited, both of which said actions are listed for hearing in London on the 22nd day of July 1975, Sheweth First, that your Petitioner's claim in each of the said actions is for an injunction to restrain the said Defendants, inter alia, from printing, publishing, distributing, selling or otherwise disclosing or reproducing certain material which records or reveals details of (1) discussions in Cabinet or in Cabinet Committee, any record of such discussions and papers prepared for or arising out of those discussions; (ii) discussions or communications between Ministers and between Ministers and advisers concerning the development and formulation of policies and their execution; (iii) discussions and communications between Ministers and their advisers and the persons responsible for the appointment and transfer of senior members of the public service and their fitness for positions of responsibility. Second, that reference is desired to be made at the hearings of the said actions to the following Reports of your Debates of your Honourable House:

Date Reference
1806 Fox 6 Parl Deb 309–19
1886 Gladstone 309 Parl Deb 3s 1186
1930 Baldwin 238 HC Deb 2206
1932 Baldwin 261 HC Deb 535
1946 H. Morrison 428 HC Deb 5s 1207–8
1952 Attlee 504 HC Deb 5s 1692
1967 Grimond 746 HC Deb 5s 1723–5
1967 Crossman 746 HC Deb 5s 1780–2
1974 Wilson 881 HC Deb 5s 271–4
1975 Wilson 884 HC Deb 5s 1746
1975 Wilson 888 HC Deb 5s 550
Wherefore your Petitioner prays that your Honourable House will be graciously pleased to give leave to the proper Officers of the House to attend the trials of the said actions and to produce the said Reports, and formally to prove the same before the Court according to their competence. And your Petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc. SAM C. SILKIN, Attorney-General. Royal Courts of Justice, London, W.C.2.

The Solicitor-General

In accordance with precedent, I beg to move, That leave be given for reference to be made to the said reports of debates and for the Editor of Hansard and other proper Officer, to attend the trials of the said action and to produce the said reports.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I take it that this motion is debatable. It would seem that we need a much fuller explanation from the Solicitor-General as to what he has proposed to the House. I am not a lawyer and I feel sure that he will be patient and tolerant with me if I do not use all the right legal terms and am not entirely acquainted with the procedure which he has just set in motion.

In addition, there having been no advance notice of this petition and motion, I think that my hon. and right hon. Friends are placed in a difficulty and it would be right for me to ask a number of questions.

It seems, first, that the Government are seeking an injunction against a Member of the Government—the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot.) I do not know whether there is a precedent for the House being asked to produce evidence for the Government to engage in legal wrangles with one of its own members. It appears to me to be more seemly, if the Government are to have a legal struggle within themselves, for the disputants to resign from the administration in the first instance and to pursue their arguments in private rather than involving this honourable House in the turmoil which will undoubtedly follow.

Secondly, it appears that the motive for this injunction is disputable. I do not believe that the House would like to grant leave for the Editor of Hansard to give evidence without discussing whether the House thinks it right for this injunction to be sought at all. It enables the whole legal process to become debatable and, if that is the case, it seems to me that we should debate the wisdom of proceeding with the injunction. Indeed, the House might feel that its only remedy to prevent this injunction from being pursued is to say that leave should not be given to the Editor of the Official Report to give evidence in the way requested.

Many of us feel that the imposition of a gag on the publication of the Cross-man diaries is a stricture which is to be highly regretted, whatever may be the strict legal position. But the fact that the Government have had to come to this House for a motion to make the Editor of Hansard appear before the courts is evidence that the matter is political. Therefore, there is a political decision whether an injunction should be proceeded with, and, indeed, whether the House should allow the Government to proceed with that injunction.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think the debate can go as wide as that. The matter is purely evidential. I would not be prepared to allow discussion of the merits of the case in which it is proposed that Officers of the House should be given leave to give evidence.

Mr. Ridley

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am in some difficulty because I have not had time to do any research work into this matter. I am being asked whether to vote for or against the motion, and I am at the moment predisposed to vote against it because I am not happy that this injunction should proceed.

I shall not discuss the merits of the injunction or of the gag proposed on the Crossman diaries. I shall require a great deal more persuading that we should give leave to the Editor of Hansard to give evidence. If that is the only remedy in our hands to frustrate this suppression of free speech, I shall pursue that remedy in this House, and I hope that my hon. Friends will also feel that we should not allow this matter to proceed. One may well touch on the merits of the case to justify the vote that I may feel hound to cast unless the Solicitor-General can convince me that I should do otherwise.

I believe that open Government is a good thing and that the more open Government we have and the less we cover up the events that take place in Government, the better it is for the public interest. Therefore, I must tell the Government that I believe that it would be against the public interest for leave to be given. I hope that the House will not pass this motion and that it will refuse to allow the Editor of Hansard to give evidence.

I take this course in no sense to frustrate the legal process but to show my disapproval of the whole operation on which the Government are embarking. If they wish to obtain approval in this House for their course of action, the only right and proper thing for them to do is to come before the House and to make time available to debate the propriety of the substantive question that lies behind the motion. In other words, they should give the House an opportunity to express its views in debate, after proper preparation and warning—and also, if necessary, in the Lobby—whether this injunction should be granted. Since the matter has been politicised, we may make a political judgment on it, and I am against the injunction being given.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has properly asked one or two questions and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General should endeavour to satisfy some of the doubts that exist about the way in which the Government have proceeded. Where does the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility stand? It has taken a lot of knocks in recent times, but this procedure seems to be going a little far. Perhaps the Solicitor-General will give some explanation.

Furthermore, what is the relevance of Hansard and its Editor to these proceedings? I am puzzled about that aspect of the matter. Many distinguished figures were mentioned by the Clerk when he read the Petition to the House. I noted down the names of Gladstone, Chamberlain, Baldwin, Herbert Morrison and the late Lord Attlee, presumably when he was Prime Minister and a Member of this House. What is their relevance to these proceedings? There seems to be a contradiction between Hansard, which is a very open record, and the Crossman Diaries, which are interestingly open in a sense but which apparently the Government are anxious to shut down. How does Hansard come into this situation? I could not follow that point. I hope that the Solicitor-General will explain the situation.

Mr. Skinner

I, too, am more than a little concerned about how this motion came about. It was not on the Order Paper but has been placed before Members of the House of Commons on a day when it is well known that a good many Members of Parliament go to their constituencies to carry out work there. It represents to me another indication of the way in which this affair has been shrouded in a degree of mystery.

Most of the dealings in this affair—I have not followed the matter too closely—seem to have been by the Government or by people acting on behalf of the Government in a way which does not totally satisfy me or many of my hon. Friends. We are, of course, dealing with a matter that is concerned with judgments. Although we are told that it is a question in which the legal process must act, what is it all about? It is about the fact that these leaks from the Cabinet presumably break some quaint, archaic rule laying down the period of 30 years. I do not understand how they can allow other people to make Cabinet leaks of one kind and another in the various ways in which that happens. I have been subject to the same process in the Tribune Group recently. I recommended to the Tribune Group that it was time that we invited The Guardian correspondent to sit in on the Tribune Group meetings so that he could witness the blow by blow account and get the whole story.

On a serious level, I believe it is a possibility, and no more than that, that somebody should consider the question whether it might not be better for the Press to be present at Cabinet meetings.

Mr. Ridley

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that it might be a good idea if there were a 30-year rule applying to the deliberations of the Tribune Group?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

That would be looked upon favourably by some of the old-established members of the Tribune Group but certainly with disfavour by such more moderate and later entrants to the Tribune Group as myself.

People constantly refer to what has happened in Cabinet. Newspapers print these matters week after week. I read The Sunday Times and other newspapers containing references to these important matters, and learned from those reports that various Cabinet Ministers voted in certain ways or made comments of various kinds. We then read the Crossman Diaries and we found that if he were telling the truth, he was offering a different interpretation of the events about which we had read earlier. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, following his defeat in the 1970 election, decided to write what he thought was a considered account of the period of Labour Government between 1964 and 1970, and made some clear references to what had happened in Cabinet, why was it that the Secretariat, who peruse these matters, allowed those references to be made by the Prime Minister? In this instance it is apparently wrong for the book written by the late Richard Cross-man to be published because it makes reference to other incidents which took place in the Cabinet and which the Secretariat, headed by some eminent person, has decided cannot be printed because it conflicts with what is supposed to be—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have allowed the hon. Member considerable latitude. I have said that this is not a matter which can be debated today. Today's motion relates purely to the question of whether certain Officers of the House should be given leave to give evidence. I do not think that we can go into the general issue of the confidentiality of Cabinet proceedings.

Mr. Skinner

The point I am making is that here we are on a Friday morning, without any prior consultation, being confronted with an issue about which we know absolutely nothing. Some of us were here until twelve o'clock last night. If we had had a mere whisper of this we could have consulted some of our people about the matter and ascertained precisely what was going on.

When you, Mr. Speaker, say to me, "Ah, well, you must be careful because you are going beyond the bounds of what is contained in this petition," while it may be fair to assume that you knew about it—and perhaps even you did not know too soon—I must point out and I suppose I represent other hon. Members —that none of us on the back benches was aware of what was taking place. I came in here—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is on a perfectly fair point now.

Mr. Skinner

Win one, lose one. That is all right for me. I came here to consider the issues on the Order Paper. Yet here I am, faced with a problem about which I know only a little. I have been reading about it during the past few weeks but I am not particularly aware of the special circumstances that apply to what the Solicitor-General has brought before us and what the Clerk of the House has read.

It was an affront for the Solicitor-General to stand up and read out this gobbledegook without explaining what it was all about. He had a duty to say to the House, "I have some urgent business to report to the House. It has been put on at the very last second and, to be courteous to hon. Members who were not aware of it, I will explain fully what is taking place." The Solicitor-General did not do that. He did what seems to have applied in most of the circumstances surrounding this issue—he tried to wheedle it through without anyone taking this is all about.

There are some of us here who on occasions are prepared, even though we may not know too much about the specific issue in question, to say to the House, "Just hang on a minute. We shall try to explore what has taken place so that we have time to study what it is. Then we can make a more accurate assessment of what to do." This approach might convince my hon. and learned Friend that he has a job to do and must answer our questions more precisely and tell us what this is all about.

That is what the issue is, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to go into all these extraneous matters. It is important that we know what this is about. I must say that, on the basis of what I have heard so far, I am inclined to reject what the Solicitor-General is putting forward.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Even when we have been discussing emergency provisions relating to Northern Ireland, printed copies or photocopies of the documents being discussed have been made available to hon. Members. Is there such a photocopy available now for us?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that that is a matter for the Chair. I must point out that it is in accordance with precedent for a motion of this sort to be moved without notice.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I heard the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) accuse the Solicitor-General of cunning and of attempting to wheedle this motion through without giving notice. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not believe that he was right or was being fair. What the Solicitor-General and the Government have failed to do is to think. They habitually fail to think about Parliament. I very much regret that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) was right, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his promptness in rising to challenge the Government's proceedings.

I make no complaint that no formal notice was given of this matter because I do not believe that that is required. But when the question is so sensitive as is the underlying question here, when it touches on such large issues as, for instance Cabinet responsibility, I believe that the Government would have been wise to give some warning to their supporters and to the Opposition of their intention to move this motion.

The House has been put at a great disadvantage. We have had no time to consider the matter or to discuss it at any length. I am not disposed to make a judgment this morning on the substance of the issue whether it would be right for the House to agree that its reports should be made available for use in evidence. That should be deferred. I must tell the Government that I believe that they would be unwise to press this issue this morning. It would be one further instance—and I have had cause to complain of this on a number of occasions lately—of the House being treated with high disregard by the executive.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The Conservatives did the same.

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) says that we did the same. When the executive make mistakes, as they do, they are and should be challenged. I do not recall the administration of which I was a member behaving in such a high-handed way over an issue such as this.

Mr. George Cunningham

Many times.

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Member may plunge into history, if he wishes. I say that this morning the House is being treated with a great disregard by the executive. I strongly advise my right hon. and hon. Friends—if I could tender advice over a wider area I would do so —to vote against the motion, not because we wish at this moment permanently to deny the availability of the parliamentary reports referred to but because we shall not be jumped into speedy decisions in this way without notice. Unless the Government are wise enough to withdraw the motion and to give some limited time for its discussion on another day, I think that we ought, without hesitation, to vote against it on the ground that Parliament is being treated with contempt and disregard. Once more the interests of the House are being subordinated to those of the executive, and I do not like it.

Mr. George Cunningham

I never cease to wonder at the amazing things that crawl out between the lines of Erskine May. I do not think that I can be the only Member in this House who needs a bit of guidance not from the Government Front Bench but from yourself, Mr. Speaker, as to just what is involved in this matter. I was not present in the first minute of the petition being read out. The only reason that I was not present, although I could have been as I was in the building, was that there was nothing on the Order Paper about this matter. For that reason, if for no other reason, I think that the House should decline to give its approval. The House should not allow the matter to be passed if the Government are so unwise as to push the matter to a vote.

The other point which constantly surprises me—of course, our power for surprise diminishes over the years—is the impudence of the Front Benches on either side of the House regarding matters of this kind. To bring something to the House without notice and to expect it to be passed is asking for trouble. Unfortunately, Front Benches do not get as much trouble as they deserve from the back benchers on such occasions, but the more they get it the more they will learn. Even Front Benches will eventually get the message.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said that he believed in open government. I believe in open trials. If it is relevant to an action in court to quote what Gladstone said in the House in 1880 or whatever, that should be invokable in evidence. But how on earth does that require the decision of the House? As I understand it, people can do anything with Hansard. It is even possible to do things with Hansard which cannot be done with anything else and not be sued for libel, for example. Why do we have to approve the quotation of Hansard in the courts? If the courts wish to have Hansard verified as a true record, do they require the presence of certain Officers of the House to do that? Is it that that needs to have the approval of the House? If that is the situation—namely, that the presence of certain Officers of the House would be required in the courts to verify Hansard —I say that the House should give its approval when the Government Front Bench have given proper notice that the matter is to come up, so that the House has time to decide upon the matter. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to clarify whether it is that narrow point which has to be decided by the House.

Mr. Speaker

I shall rule on that matter now so far as I can. It may be that this matter arises out of the desire of the House to safeguard its documents and its proceedings; and whether that is right or wrong, is not a matter for me to say. The custom of the House at present is that the House allows its records to be referred to in a court of law or to be proved by one of its Officers only with the leave of the House. This is an attempt to preserve the privilege of the House. Whether that is good or bad is not a matter for me.

Mr. George Cunningham

Further to that point,. Mr. Speaker, is it not just the presence of Officers of the House in court which we need to approve or is it the courts making use of Hansard as part of the evidence?

Mr. Speaker

Those are the terms of the motion. I do not think it is for the Chair to expound the merits of the terms of the motion. That is a matter for the Government. All I can say is that the motion is in accordance with precedent.

Mr. George Cunningham

It follows that any newspaper can make use of Hansard without protection and anyone writing a book can make use of Hansard without protection, but a court cannot make use of Hansard with or without protection? That is a preposterous situation which could be created only by the British House of Commons.

Mr. English

To take up what my hon. Friend the Member for Islington. South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has said, I think that there might be a better reason. Some of the reports requested in the petition are, to say the least, a little elderly. My own view is that Cabinet discussions should be confidential within a reasonable time after they have been concluded. I would add that they should be kept confidential by Prime Ministers as well as by other Cabinet Ministers. However, that is another point.

None of us had an opportunity to look at any of these reports. There are different views on the main issue of the Cross-man diaries and it may be that some of the reports in question are a little sanctified by time. Reports which may have expressed the wishes of the House once might not express its wishes now. That is a very important reason for supporting the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) in his view that decision on this matter should be deferred.

It may be, for example, that the House would wish to refuse parts of the petition if the House happened to take a view different from that of the Solicitor-General. It may well be that had we had notice of this matter we would have wanted to have a full debate today on the main issue of the Crossman Diaries. Having said that, basically I support the Solicitor-General's principles although I support my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury and the right hon. Member for Yeovil.

As a way of losing one's own supporters, this is about the most perfect method I can imagine. I shall go into the Opposition Lobby with the right hon. Member for Yeovil if necessary, whereas normally I suspect that I would go into the Government Lobby. That would probably have been the position if I had had time to consider the matter. It may well be that the right hon. Gentleman would have supported the Government if he had had time to consider the matter. As I say, as a way of losing one's own supporters, this is about the most perfect method that can be imagined.

I suggest strongly that at this point someone on the Government Front Bench should rise and move that the debate be adjourned.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

The advice that you gave to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) in response to his question emphasises, Mr. Speaker, that in the past the House of Commons has attached some considerable importance to protecting this privilege. That being so—and whether that be wise or unwise—it is clear that we are considering a matter of considerable procedural importance. That emphasises all the more why the House should have been given some proper notice before the motion was introduced. It may be that according to precedent there is no requirement for notice to be given, but if this is a matter of such importance—and self-evidently it is—that is all the more reason for the Solicitor-General to have taken steps to inform the House that this matter was to be introduced. By precedent that may not have been a requirement, but at the very least, as a matter of courtesy to the House, one would have thought that the Solicitor-General would take that course.

Those of us who are non-lawyers are in some difficulties as regards the full implications of this matter. It may be that some of us will support the Solicitor-General once the matter has been fully explained. The whole House is in some difficulty. It is clear that there are matters of considerable legal and procedural importance. Outside the House this matter will be seen to have considerable constitutional importance. I believe that the House would be failing to do its duty if it merely passed this motion on the nod, as I suspect the Solicitor-General hoped it would, without a proper debate.

I urge that this motion be not proceeded with today. I suggest that it be brought up again next week. I suggest that not just an hour or so is allowed for discussion but that there is a full day's debate, bearing in mind the important implications that it contains over so many areas of public life. I hope that the Solicitor-General will give an explanation why he tried to slip this through this morning in this way, and at least give us an undertaking that it will be withdrawn and brought back at a time and in a manner that will allow it to be fully and properly debated by the House.

Mr. Roper

You have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that it is not appropriate for us to discuss whether there should be a 30-year rule or a 30-minute rule as regards Cabinet proceedings, although recently it seems that the latter has been observed rather than the former. At least in this House we are entitled to have something better than a 30-second rule, which is all that seems to have been applied today.

It seems presumptuous and discourteous for the Solicitor-General to come to the House this morning and to read out a list of Hansard extracts. There will be great difficulty in getting hold of Hansard for 1806 to find exactly what it was that Fox said and why it should he relevant to matters which are being tried next week, let alone what Mr. Gladstone said in 1866.

If this matter had involved quotations by the Prime Minister or by Mr. Cross-man during the period covered by the diaries, perhaps the House might have understood and accepted the motion, but to come along with a list of authorities going back to Fox in 1806, without an opportunity for the House to have any information of what is contained in them, seems to have been an extraordinary act on the part of the Solicitor-General.

I hope that in view of the concern which has been expressed from both sides of the House, my hon. and learned Friend will consider withdrawing the motion and allowing the House to have notice before it is re-introduced so that we may be aware of what it is we are being asked to do.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

I think it will be conceded that my party has not sought to obstruct Her Majesty's Government in the discharge of their duties. I think that it will be accepted that we have not developed any kind of automatic opposition mentality. But on an issue such as this, which touches directly on the function of Parliament itself, my right hon. and hon. Friends would be reluctant to support the Government. I appeal to the Government to withdraw the motion and to give us more time to reflect upon it, and in doing so to preserve the good will which, despite all our differences, continues to exist in the House.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher: (Edinburgh, North)

If the Solicitor-General is to do anything other than withdraw the motion, I hope that he will explain in particular the position of the Secretary of State for Employment, who appears to be a party to both sides of this dispute.

The Solicitor-General

If I may have leave to speak again, of course I apologise that no notice was given either to the House in general or specifically to the Opposition or to my right hon. and hon. Friends. Of course it is not true that I was trying to slip something through. That allegation is not often made against me. I hope that it will not be thought to be the reason why the motion was brought before the House in this way.

When this kind of petition has been presented in the past, notice has not been given and normally no explanation given. I was merely following precedent. I appreciate that in this case the House wishes that the matter shall be done otherwise, and in the circumstances I would not wish to press the motion this morning. If the House wishes to debate it, of course it should be debated. But I should make certain things clear.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) commented that I had not explained at length the purpose of what we were doing. The difficulty is that in such a matter lawyers cannot win. On occasions when I want to make a speech explaining as a matter of law why we are doing something, I am often accused, sometimes by my hon. Friend, of taking up the time of the House. It seemed to me that on this matter, which is a very narrow procedural motion, it might have been resented if I had made a speech. Clearly I was wrong about that, and I accept that the House now wishes it to be done otherwise.

I should also make it clear that there is no question today, not only of debating the merits of the matter, as you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, but of taking any steps on behalf of the Government. This is not the Government's motion. It is a petition from my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, in his capacity as guardian of the public interest and it is in no sense a motion by the Government. What he was asking for was that leave of the House should be given for appropriate Officers to attend at court in order that certain records of the proceedings of the House could be formally proved in evidence.

That is a way in which, from time to time, the House has assisted the courts in their function of arriving at a conclusion, and that was all that was being asked, and it was being asked because of a Resolution of this House in 1818, when it was resolved that Officers of the House should not attend before the courts in order to prove evidential documents of that kind without leave of the House.

Mr. English

Could my hon. and learned Friend make one point clear? If our Officers are given an instruction by motion, there is no doubt that hon. Members can lay amendments to that motion before it is passed. Does this procedure by petition mean that the petition cannot be amended if it were the case that the House did not totally agree with the Attorney-General?

The Solicitor-General

I speak subject to your correction, Mr. Speaker, hut, as I understand it, the motion is simply that the petition of the Attorney-General should be acceded to in the form in which the prayer is at present. It is a little difficult to see what kind of amendment might be moved, even if it were to be procedurally possible, because the particular matters which have been asked to be proved before the court are matters which happen to be considered relevant evidentially in its proceedings. It would be a little odd if someone who had not considered with counsel the issues before the court were to suggest that something would be relevant other than that which had been asked for. It was only this very narrow matter on which I was inviting the House to pass the motion today.

Mr. Palmer

My hon. and learned Friend says that it is necessary for him to come to the House in order to get leave of the House for its Officers to be released. If leave of the House is asked for, presumably it can be refused. What would be the result if we were to refuse leave?

The Solicitor-General

If leave were refused, the court would have to decide the particular issues before it without the advantage of having these documents. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) earlier asked what was the specific relevance of the passages in question. The difficulty in which I am placed is that I am not entitled today to discuss the merits, and it would be quite improper for me to embark on discussions of matters which later will be before the court for decision. But the specific relevance of the documents in question is that, in an effort to show what was the reason for the 30-year rule, the views expressed in the House on the doctrine of collective responsibility might be of assistance to the court. That is the relevance.

If the House wishes to debate the matter further, I would not dream of pressing the motion this morning. But all that is being asked is that the courts, which have always enjoyed amicable relationships with this House, should have the advantage of having before them certain documents without which they would be inhibited in arriving at a conclusion.

Mr. Beith

It is the fact that we are inhibited in arriving at a conclusion by the absence of documents before us that has annoyed us. While we have been given the text of the petition and the motion, even after the Solicitor-General had moved the motion, at five minutes past eleven o'clock, it was not possible to obtain from the Officers any text or indication of what passages were being requested.

The Solicitor-General

I followed precedent, and what has been the practice in such cases in the past. But I will see whether that can be done for the resumed debate. In the circumstances, the most helpful course that I can take is to seek to adjourn the debate. I beg to move.

That the debate be now adjourned.

Question put and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed on Monday next.

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