HC Deb 01 March 1976 vol 906 cc908-10
53. Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

asked the Attorney-General whether the Government have now completed their consideration of the Phillimore Report on Contempt of Court; and when they propose to introduce legislation.

The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)

The Government are still considering the Phillimore Report and further consultation is required before any firm conclusions can be reached. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) on 26th November last, we also have to take account of the Law Commission's work on offences against the administration of justice.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recollect that in 1973 the then Leader of the Opposition, now Prime Minister, said that this subject was in urgent need of attention? Does he further recollect that the Phillimore Committee reported in May 1974 and that since then this urgent matter has been received with a deafening silence? When will something happen?

The Attorney-General

As I told the hon. and learned Gentleman, this is a difficult subject. It is bound up with the Law Commission's work, which has been given a great deal of consideration, and there has been a great deal of consultation. I agree that this matter requires urgency, but it also requires thoroughness. In my view, thoroughness in this context must be a priority over urgency.

Mr. Aitken

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is considerable dissatisfaction at the way in which his Department appears to be in a state of fossilised inactivity, not just about the Phillimore Report on contempt but about the Faulks Report on defamation, the Younger Report on privacy and the Franks Report on official secrets? When will he do anything about anything?

The Attorney-General

The answer to the first question is "No, I am not aware of that". Each of the other matters to which the hon. Member referred is within the province not of my Department but of another Department. Of course, on matters such as those which are the concern of the Lord Chancellor, I answer for him.

Mr. Percival

We quite understand, of course, the importance of the decisions that the Government will take on this Report, and therefore can see that it is right and proper that it should receive careful consideration, but the Committee reported in May 1974. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say how much longer the consideration will continue?

The Attorney-General

No, Sir, I cannot. I have already said that the Law Commission's Report has to be taken into account, and that there have to be and have been consultations, and there will be more. I can only hope that the Government will be able to announce conclusions before too long.