HC Deb 24 February 1976 vol 906 cc194-5
Mr. Speaker

I have considered the complaint made yesterday by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) in regard to an order made by a court prohibiting the publication of information relating to proceedings before the court. The hon. Member asked me to consider the matter from the point of view of parliamentary privilege, on the grounds that the order had the indirect effect of preventing him from ventilating certain issues which he considered should be made public.

I have taken into account the provisions of the Administration of Justice Act 1960, under which the court made its order, and the extent to which communications between hon. Members and their constituents have been held to enjoy the protection of parliamentary privilege.

There is no doubt that in any proceedings in this House in which the hon. Member took part he would enjoy absolute privilege, and I am sure that the House would be jealous to prevent any erosion of freedom of speech in Parliament, by the courts or anybody else. However, I do not, in this case, consider that the operation of the Act of 1960 raises issues which would justify me in giving precedence to the hon. Member's complaint over the Orders of the Day.

My ruling does not, of course, prevent the hon. Member from seeking to have the issues raised by this case considered by the House by other means, should he wish to do so.

Mr. Gorst

I am grateful for your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I accept it completely. It still leaves some doubt in my mind as to precisely what an hon. Member may do outside the precincts of the House. For example, it was drawn to my attention shortly before coming into the Chamber—and I have not been able to check it—that the Lord Chancellor, at an earlier stage, was involved in a judgment by Mr. Justice Lane in which much greater protection was offered to a Member of Parliament in a similar situation. I wonder whether you could give me some guidance whether the general issues raised could still be considered by the Committee of Privileges.

Mr. Speaker

The House can decide whatever it wishes to send to the Committee of Privileges, but I cannot say that the privilege that extends to Members of Parliament also extends to constituents. I have gone into the matter very deeply during the course of the morning and have been advised about precedents and so on. Therefore, the ruling which I have given must stand.

Mr. English

I do not in any way dispute your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but is it not desirable that the Leader of the House should bring forward for consideration the Report of the Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament on the Publication of Proceedings in Parliament? That matter has been considered for an inordinately long time by the Government and should be discussed by both Houses because it deals with the point at issue.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. No doubt his observations will be noted.

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