HC Deb 10 April 1978 vol 947 cc973-4
40. Mr. Ryman

asked the Attorney-General when he expects to bring forward legislation to implement the recommendations of the Phillimore Committee on Contempt of Court, Command Paper No. 5794.

The Attorney-General

Not before the Government have had an opportunity to consider public and parliamentary reactions to the Green Paper on contempt of court which was published as a Command Paper on 22nd March.

Mr. Ryman

Bearing in mind that the original report was published as long ago as December 1974 and that three and a half years elapsed before the Government thought fit to publish a discussion paper, is my right hon, and learned Friend aware that the continuing delay in reforming this difficult and technical branch of the law is causing real difficulties to journalists and newspapers?

The Attorney-General

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a difficult branch of the law. Because it is a difficult branch of the law and raises some difficult and sensitive quesetions, the Government considered very carefully before they decided that the right course was to isolate the particularly difficult issues by means of a Green Paper and nut them to the public and Parliament for discussion. It is part of the Government's process of open government. Less than three and a half weeks have elapsed since that Green Paper was published. We are hoping that we shall have the views of the House and of the public.

Mr. Percival

Can the Attorney-General do a little bit better than that? To call this open government makes words rather meaningless. The report was published in December 1974 and it has taken three years for a discussion paper to come out of it. I err on the side of conservatism because it is more than three years. How long will it be before something else happens? The Attorney-General has said that we must await parliamentary and public reaction. How long shall we have to wait for a chance to see what parliamentary reaction is? I see that the Leader of the House has arrived. Can he tell us through the Attorney-General when Parliament will have a chance to express an opinion about it? Can he offer hope of speedier action than is suggested by his answers so far?

The Attorney-General

The hon, and learned Gentleman always errs on the side of conservatism. I shall await with great interest his contribution to the debate which has been opened by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor in his Green Paper. The Leader of the House has heard what the hon, and learned Member has said and he will no doubt take note of it in relation to the possibility of a debate.