§ 4.6 pm
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
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 of the House of Lords in Harman v Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the effect of this judgment on the freedom of the press.A very serious situation has now been created both for the principle of open justice in the courts of law of the land and for the freedom of the press generally. Indeed it is such a serious situation that one of the dissenting judges, Lord Scarman, was called upon to quote quite widely from Milton's "Areopagitica" in order to make points that he failed to make about what a fundamental judgment this is in terms of the freedom of the press to report matters that come before the courts.
I shall briefly make a number of points that go to the urgency of this matter. The majority judgments, for the first time in Britain, purported to draw a distinction between two kinds of journalists—between people called court reporters and ordinary newspaper reporters in the courts and what they call feature journalists. They purported to draw the distinction as though these two sorts of people were quite different and that one sort can have access, through a solicitor, to matters read out in open court whereas the other cannot. I need simply say on that that if we were to divide the Press Gallery into those two sorts of animal it would exclude one or two of our roost beloved journalists from this House.
My second point is that Lord Scarman made it absolutely clear in his judgment that the majority judgment contravened article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states thatEveryone has the right to freedom of expressionand that that rightshall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.That right is only to be prevented by what is called a real pressing social need, as decided in the case concerning The Sunday Times, and Lord Scarman says that it can hardly be argued that there is a pressing social need to exclude solicitors from the rights available to everyone else.
Thirdly, the Home Office—the Government—brought this case and in the courts pursued their intention, which I find a quite offensive intention, to ask for Home Office costs. That will have the effect of bankrupting the National Council for Civil Liberties which now has to find £25,000. The Home Office's original statement was that it was a test case.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman must not make the speech that he would make if he were granted his application. The hon. Gentleman knows what he must outline to me, apart from the urgency of the matter.
§ Mr. Price
I shall conclude. It has always been the case that the costs in a test case are borne by the Government. That has always been the principle.
In view of those three urgent issues which should be decided now, and could have been decided last year in the Contempt of Court Bill when it was before Parliament, we must have a debate on the Floor of the 1125 House—urgently—as we have in the past when the House of Lords has delivered judgment on cases as important as this one.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman gave me notice before noon today that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,the decision of the House of Lords in Harman v Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the effect of this judgment on the freedom of the press.The hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention to a very important matter. It is not for me to say whether it should be discussed by the House. That lies in other people's hands. There is more than one way in which a matter can be raised. The House knows that it has limited my power to decide whether the matter should be discussed tonight or on Monday. The House has also instructed me to give no reasons for my decision.
I listened with great care to what the hon. Gentleman said, as I listened to the earlier exchanges, 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.