HC Deb 17 November 1981 vol 13 cc163-4
Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I refer to early-day motion 31 headed "Master of the Rolls". When I attended the Table Office to add my name to that early-day motion, I was told that I could not do so because the matter was sub judice. May I have your guidance on this, Mr. Speaker, as I would wish at the earliest possible date to add my signature in support?

Mr. Speaker

I understand the hon. Gentleman, but I also understand that since the GLC-London Transport case became sub judice no new signatures have been accepted to early-day motion 31 and that it has not been reproduced among the notices of motions and will not be until the case is dealt with and the appeal is heard.


Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the years that I have been in the House, the sub judice rule has gradually been toughened compared with the position 10 or 15 years ago. Under the present ruling, I may say things in a newspaper article that I am not entitled to say in the House. Would it be possible for you, Mr. Speaker, or the appropriate Committee, seriously to consider the sub judice rule to see whether the way in which it is now applied is really necessary?

Mr. Speaker

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, this is the High Court of Parliament. Many things happen in the media that we would not allow to happen in this honourable House. If the House cares to examine the sub judice rule, so be it. But I honestly believe that the rule which has stood us in good stead for a very long period, enabling the various branches in our system of government to function properly, ought not to be lightly discarded.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall, of course, take points of order if hon. Members feel so burdened that I ought to take them.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, I entirely accept your view that many things take place in the media that we would not wish to see in the House, but is not the general principle that there should be no less freedom of speech in the House than in the media a very important consideration?

Mr. Speaker

It is very important that in the House we observe the sub judice rule. If our constitution is to function properly, I believe that here, above all, the sub judice rule must be observed.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, With the utmost respect, may I wholly endorse and applaud the ruling that you have been good enough to give to the House? Does not the sub judice rule owe its origin to a proper desire to avoid conflicts of jurisdiction between the courts of justice and the High Court of Parliament? Is it not important, therefore, from a constitutional point of view, that that position be preserved?

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Did not the House give instructions to you by resolution, both in 1963 and in 1972, that the sub judice rule in the House stands at your discretion and that when matters of supreme national importance, take place outside the House, as occurred in 1973, notwithstanding the existence of the sub judice rule you have discretion to overlook the rule? Would not the present case, which involves the Greater London council and touches on the legality of the use of public expenditure to reduce the cost of transport, fall very close to that point at which you could properly exercise the discretion invested in you by the House?

Mr. Speaker

I am much obliged to those who have contributed. I always feel more comfortable when the judgment of the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) on legal matters coincides with my own. I am deeply grateful to him. I am grateful, too, to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) for reminding the House that it is to me that discretion has been given, and I have exercised it.