HC Deb 31 January 1977 vol 925 cc29-31
Mr. Speaker

On Thursday last, the Attorney-General made a statement on his reasons for refusing his consent to the application by Mr. Gouriet to bring relator proceedings for an injunction against the Union of Post Office Workers. Subsequently, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) asked me to give a ruling on a number of issues. He asked me to rule whether the Attorney-General, if he were to decide to appeal to the House of Lords against the decision of the Appeal Court on Mr. Gouriet's application, would be doing so on behalf of the House of Commons.

The situation is that the Attorney-General is an independent Law Officer of the Crown. My understanding of the position is that if he decides to appeal to the Lords his action would be taken in that capacity. Therefore, this House is not involved in his decision.

The hon. Member also raised with me the competence of the House of Lords to consider this case. That is clearly not a matter for me.

Finally, the hon. Member asked whether this House could debate the status of the Attorney-General in this matter and express a view upon it. This House is free to discuss what it likes, but it is for the House itself and not for me to decide subjects for debate.

Mr. Atkinson

Thank you for that statement, Mr. Speaker. I give you notice that I want to raise the matter under Standing Order No. 9 after the EEC statement.

Mr. English

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said that the Attorney-General alone may decide whether to appeal to the House of Lords. I am not sure whether he has any ground to appeal since two of the court ruled in his favour. But is it not the case that a lawyer normally takes the advice of his clients? [An HON. MEMBER: "A lawyer gives advice."] The hon. Member is correct to say that a lawyer gives advice to his client. In this case the client is the Cabinet of the United Kingdom, which is responsible to this House.

Mr. Speaker

I am not responsible for the Cabinet.

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

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I must make it clear that I am not responsible to the Cabinet on this matter but only to myself. I am in that position—which all lawyers regard as being an unfortunate one—of being my own adviser.

Mr. George Cunningham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to raise a matter relating to the Speaker's Conference. Should I raise it now or at the end of the EEC statement?

Mr. Speaker

I presume that we have finished with that matter now.

Mr. Ridley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Attorney-General has just said that he is responsible only to himself. He said before the court that he was responsible to this House for his decisions. Now he appears to have changed his mind. In view of this confusion, there should be a debate in the House and an opportunity for these matters to be discussed.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that we shall not pursue this matter. I have given the House a clear statement. Unless anyone feels that he will be burned up if he does not ask a question, I suggest that we move on.

Mr. Christopher Price

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is important that we should get this issue clear. I accept your statement that if the Attorney-General were to decide to appeal he should do it on his own behalf. But "Erskine May" makes clear that this sort of matter between the High Court of Parliament and the High Court of Justice has been an issue from time to time over the past few hundred years. It is important for us to know the grounds on which the Attorney-General is appealing. Is it not important that we as a Parliament are able to debate this issue as early as possible? Can you at least take that point into consideration?

Mr. Speaker

I have made clear that, of course, the House can debate what it likes, but it is not for me to say when it debates an issue.