HC Deb 24 May 1977 vol 932 cc1188-9
Mr. Budgen

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Prime Minister to comment as he did during Question Time on the actions of the Daily Mail when the matter is sub judice?

Mr. Speaker

What is sub judice is the question of the letter. Any references to the alleged writer of the letter are sub judice but at present the broader issue is not sub judice.

Mr. Newens

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Owing to the noise during Question Time a number of us were unable to hear whether the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition was seeking to dissociate herself from the disgraceful behaviour of the Daily Mail. If she was seeking to catch your eye in order to do that, Mr. Speaker, will you allow her the opportunity now?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must not raise points of order merely to score points.

Mr. Budgen

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask you. Mr. Speaker, to reconsider your ruling. It may be the case that Lord Ryder and one other will be suing the Daily Mail, in which case I respectfully contend that the words of the Prime Minister might be used at a later stage to increase the damages in any defamation action.

Mr. Speaker

In anticipation that this matter might be raised I have taken advice and I have a considered statement.

I understand that Mr. Barton, the alleged author of the letter in question, has this morning been remanded in custody on a charge of forgery. This is a serious criminal charge, and it has been the invariable practice of my predecessors and myself, as long as any such criminal charge is pending, not to permit any discussion in the House that might conceivably prejudice it. In this I believe that we have acted in accordance with the long-standing practice of the House and, in particular, with the resolution to which the House agreed on 23rd July.

With reference to what the hon. Gentleman said about Lord Ryder, Lord Ryder's writ, if one be issued, is not sub judice until the action is set down for trial.


Mrs. Winifred Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the interests of lawyers who are not skilled in English law, may I ask for some clarification? In your own phrase, the matter is not sub judice until, if I quote correctly, "set down for trial". Does this mean something other than the issuing of a writ in English law? In Scots law once the writ is issued the matter is already sub judice. May I have an explanation?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member will be aware that there is a great deal of difference between a civil writ, which is involved in the case of Lord Ryder if it is followed up, and a criminal charge, as is the other case.

Sir David Renton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With regard to the sub judice rule and its application to criminal proceedings, no doubt it will have occurred to you, Mr. Speaker, that both the editor and other members of the staff of the Daily Mail may be called as witnesses in any such criminal proceedings. That being so, it is important, is it not, that their credibility as witnesses should not be impugned by statements in the House, whether made by the Prime Minister or anyone else?

Mr. Thorpe

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a most appalling suggestion from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that any person who might or might not be called as a witness to a trial in civil or criminal proceedings may not be referred to in this place?