§ Mr. Atkinson
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the Appeal Court judgment, to define the area of absolute discretion embodied in the Attorney-General and his relationship to the Executive and the House of Commons".I shall put my case as briefly as possible.
I would first mention the curious, almost bizarre and unprecedented reporting in the newspapers last Thursday and Friday following the judgment by the court. Without exception the newspapers reported Denning fully but almost ignored the decision by the other two judges, which constituted a majority opinion of the court. In fact, the majority judgment was ignored and, curiously, it was also ignored by the Chamber. Therefore, the discussion and the questioning that followed the Attorney-General's statement was of a most curious and almost unbalanced nature. I believe that is the first reason why we should take an early opportunity of discussing the matter so that we can get some sense of proportion back into the issue.
I now believe that issues are looming large and the time is not far off when the House will be involved in much more controversial constitutional issues than up to now. I take it, Mr. Speaker, that none of this is sub judice because the Attorney-General has not yet decided whether he is going to the House of Lords.
It is essential that we have a debate in this Chamber on the character of that application and the basis of the Attorney-General's submission for appeal. Because of the majority ruling of the Court of Appeal judges, the Attorney-General can now make his application only on very narrow issues indeed. That is the only basis on which he can go to the House of Lords unless there are other people who have ideas about seeking leave to challenge the ruling of the Appeal Court itself.
I understand that the Attorney-General is considering only these narrow issues, 46 but they will have serious implications for some of the judgments that my right hon. and learned Friend will have to make from now on. There is, therefore, a good reason why the House should discuss the application, particularly if, as the Attorney-General believes—as you yourself, Mr. Speaker, do—that he is answerable to the House of Commons.
Questions have already been raised about that "answerability"—if that is the right word—being limited to 10 minutes a month. It does not seem that Members of Parliament have very much access to constitutional affairs of this size if that is our present basis for questioning the Attorney-General.
It is Denning who rejects the view that the Attorney-General has absolute discretion in these matters. But the other two judges said that in most of the areas discussed the Attorney-General had absolute discretion and was quite right to take his decision. All three judges concurred in saying that there were areas in which there should be some qualification.
The matter is urgent because we now know that there are some societies and organisations and some groups of lawyers who are discussing ways in which they can seek an injunction to prevent Members of Parliament from discussing very big race relations issues. The argument concerns preventing Members of Parliament from openly discussing race relations. That is an issue as controversial as some that could arise in industrial relations.
It is absolutely essential that we get right the use of the courts to prevent Members of Parliament from making statements. If we are to honour our obligations as Members of Parliament, and as a democratic Assembly, we should try to define clearly what we believe. We must get the issue of the Attorney-General's accountability right, particularly if my right hon. and learned Friend is called upon to answer about Members of Parliament making statements outside the House. We must decide whether they can be subject to rulings by the court in the way that some people are now proposing. That is the basis of my submission.
There are many other features—I know that you, Mr. Speaker, are familiar with them—to substantiate the urgency of the matter. Rather than detain the House 47 now and spell out all these issues, I would only say that they are extremely relevant.
When we are concerned about these sorts of constitutional issues, it is extremely urgent to take the opportunity to debate where this House stands in relation to the Attorney-General before he makes an application to the House of Lords.
Above all, that would allow us to correct the record and to ensure that people understand that no one is attempting to be above the law. No one is trying to do that. We are concerned that the courts should not be instruments for making law; nor should they become institutions capable of preventing free expression of opinion, particularly when involving Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman gave me notice this morning that he intended to raise this matter, and I am grateful to him. The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,Following the Appeal Court judgment, to define the area of absolute discretion embodied in the Attorney-General and his relationship to the Executive and the House of Commons".As the House knows, I am not required to decide whether the matter should be debated but whether it should take priority over other business. As the House also knows, I am not required to give my reasons. I have given thoughtful consideration to what the hon. Gentleman has just said and to his representations, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the rules of Standing Order No. 9 and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.