§ 4.4 pm
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Ian Percival)
I should be happy to explain the need for the motion standing in my name, should the House desire that. As 1823 I have had a word with those whom I know to be interested, perhaps it would meet the wishes of the House if, at this stage, I just moved the motion. Accordingly, I beg to move.That leave be given for reference to be made in the course of proceedings on an Application pending in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court under No. DC 429/79 in which the Applicants are the London Borough of Lambeth, the London Borough of Lewisham and the London Borough of Southwark and in which the Respondent is the Secretary of state for Social Services to Reports of Debates and Written Answers as prayed for in the Petition relating to the said Application presented to this House on 13 December.
§ 4.5 pm
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
I do not wish formally to object to the motion in the way that I formally objected to a motion a week or two ago. However, I should like some elucidation. I thank the Solicitor-General for informing me on Wednesday of this week that notice of motion was to be put down on Thursday for the motion to come up today. I should like to thank the Solicitor-General again for informing the other side in the case.
The Treasury Solicitor, in whose name the petition stands, has clearly spent a long time culling Hansard for the passages that it is desired to quote in court. Are those passages culled so that they should be of advantage to the Secretary of State in the coming case, or did the Treasury Solicitor act in the public good and abstract from Hansard every possible reference—not only those that he might feel would be helpful to the Secretary of State but those that might be helpful to the boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham?
Can the Solicitor-General assure us that when such a case arises in future the other side will not be informed only two days before the motion is considered by the House? Public law is being tested in the case in question, and I hope that in future the hon. and learned Gentleman will inform the other side in plenty of time so that both sides have the chance to troll through years of written questions and other references in Hansard and so that if is certain that, even with our unsatisfactory procedure, at least every bit of relevant parliamentary material, whether it helps one side or the other, will be available to the court.
§ 4.7 pm
§ The Solicitor-General
With the leave of the House, I should like to comment on the points made. I am greatly obliged to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) for his courteous observations about the course that we have pursued. I assure him that, if the need for such petitions continues, that course will always be pursued. Of course, it may be that the need for petitions will disappear soon.
I have no doubt that the primary purpose was to find references that would assist the case that has to be presented by the Treasury Solicitor. However, I am equally confident that, in accordance with the traditions of practice among our lawyers, if something had been found which was contrary to any of those references it would have been drawn to the attention of the other side.
Of course, one looks for authorities that help one's own case, but, if one finds a contrary authority, one does not keep it under the desk. The tradition is that such authorities are disclosed. I am speaking without detailed knowledge but with confidence that that practice would have been followed. In any case, no doubt those on whose behalf I am speaking will see our comments recorded in Hansard and take note of them.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether I could assure him that more than just a couple of days' notice would be given in future. There have been problems in this case. The action was proceeding at a fairly rapid pace at one stage, but our procedures were under review and we had a debate on 3 December which might have made the motion unnecessary. When that debate failed to reach a conclusion, it was necessary to move as quickly as possible in this case, and, within those limits, I assure the hon. Gentleman that our intention was to give the maximum possible notice. That will be our intention on any future occasion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That leave be given for reference to be made in the course of proceedings on an Application pending in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court under No. DC 429/79 in which the Applicants are the London Borough of Lambeth, the London Borough of Lewisham and the London Borough of Southwark and in which the Respondent is the Secretary of State for Social Services to Reports of Debates and Written 1825 Answers as prayed for in the Petition relating to the said Application presented to this House on 13th December.