§ Mr. Stanbrook
This is the first application of this kind that I have made for 10 years.
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 decision by Mr. Attorney-General not to take criminal proceedings against the BBC under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976.At first sight it appears that an application for an emergency debate on a decision made by the Attorney-General within his own responsibility is misconceived. The significance of the decision might have immediate and far-reaching consequences for the media in Northern Ireland.
My right hon. and learned Friend knows, as does every decent lawyer, that there was ample evidence against the BBC justifying a prosecution in this case. One of the incidents involved an interview with a self-confessed participant in the murder of Airey Neave. I should have thought that everyone could toll that that was a breach of section 11 of the Act.
My right hon. and learned Friend has not sought to base his decision on the ground that there is insufficient evidence. The decision, therefore, was made on the ground of public policy. In several cases in the past evidence against big and important institutions has not been forthcoming. Their size and importance has been considered by many people to be one of the ingredients in the decision not to prosecute.
1067 In this case the BBC clearly has breached section 11 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. If the BBC is entitled to immunity, why are so many small publications prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act and under the contempt of court provisions? Why is a great and powerful institution such as the BBC allowed to go scot-free?
Public policy is a matter for the House to decide as the ultimate arbiter. For those reasons I ask that the House be given an early opportunity to tell the Attorney-General where the public interest lies.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the decision by Mr. Attorney-General not to take criminal proceedings against the BBC under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976.The hon. Gentleman gave me notice before 12 o'clock that he would seek leave to make the application under Standing Order No. 9.
As the House knows, under Standing-Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account all the factors set out in the order, but to give no reasons for my decision.
I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order, and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) asserted as fact that the BBC was in breach of a section of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, or that some of its employees were. That must be a debatable 1068 opinion. Expressed as it was, undoubtedly it was defamatory of the people involved. Is it not within the power of the Chair to call to order an hon. Member who makes a defamatory allegation, in order to indicate to him that it would be unwise to assert as fact that which is by no means proved?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have said on many occasions that every hon. Member takes personal responsibility for any statement that he makes in the House.