HC Deb 21 January 1982 vol 16 cc423-34 3.53 pm
The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to repeat a statement being made in another place by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.

Before reading that statement, may I make a personal apology to the whole House? Certain remarks attributed to myself were reported in the press yesterday and repeated this morning. Any remarks that I made were made before matters developed to the point when it was obviously the wish of hon. Members that a statement should be made in Parliament about the case. If anything that I may have said showed any disrespect to the House, I wish to apologise unreservedly as that was furthest from my intention. I shall now read the statement.

With your Lordships' permission, I should like to make a statement—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


The Solicitor-General for Scotland

With your Lordships' permission, I should like to make a statement on the case of alleged rape and serious assault in Glasgow which has been the subject of much recent comment.

In Scotland, the Lord Advocate is answerable to Parliament for the conduct of criminal prosecutions. It is, however, the practice not to divulge any details of the evidence in particular cases. This is intended for the protection of all the parties involved, and it is particularly important in the present case, where it is possible that the complainer may at some future date make an application to the High Court of Justiciary to bring a private prosecution; it is particularly important in these circumstances that nothing is said that might affect any such application, the interests of the complainer, or the interests of any persons who may be accused by her, and who under our legal system are entitled to the presumption of innocence. Subject to these restraints, I wish, however, to be as frank and open as possible about this matter to the House and to the public on account of the anxiety aroused by the case.

In this case the Procurator Fiscal, on receipt of information from the police, charged four youths with rape and with attempted murder. On reporting the case to Crown counsel in Edinburgh, they, in the exercise of their responsibility as independent prosecutors, indicted three of those youths with one charge of rape and one charge of assault to severe injury, permanent disfigurement and danger to life. The case was put out for a sitting of the High Court in Glasgow in June 1981. When the victim appeared, it was apparent that she was not in a fit state to give evidence and on the instructions of Crown counsel she was examined by a consultant psychiatrist. In the interests of the woman, I would not wish to reveal the details of the report, save to say that her medical history since the events complained of caused the psychiatrist to conclude that a court appearance at that time would be detrimental to her health and carried a hazard of suicide both before and after the trial, whatever the result. Accordingly, the case was not called.

Thereafter the decision had to be taken whether the trial should be further postponed, or whether the Crown should proceed with the whole, or part of the indictment in the absence of the complainer's evidence, or whether the case should be dropped altogether. In coming to that decision Crown counsel was principally influenced by the likely effect on her health of the prospect of having to give evidence.

Given that the complainer was not at that stage able to give evidence, the difficult decision arose whether on the remaining evidence available to the Crown the Crown should proceed with both or one of the charges. The view was taken by Crown counsel that in the light of all the circumstances in the absence of the complainer it would not have been proper to proceed on the whole or any part of the indictment.

With regard to obtaining the evidence of the complainer in the situation where she was not able to give her evidence in court, it has been suggested that her evidence could have been taken on commission under section 32 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. In terms of subsection (2)(b) of the section, the application to take evidence in this way may be granted only if the judge is satisfied that there will be no unfairness to the other party or parties. I am of the opinion that an application in this case to take the evidence on commission of the complainer would not have been granted.

In the light of the information available to him, Crown counsel considered that the prospect of sufficient improvement in the complainer's health to alter the situation was not enough to justify keeping the proceedings alive any further and, accordingly, instructions were given that the case should be dropped. Once that has been done in Scotland at the insistence of the Lord Advocate, no further prosecution at his instance is possible. Crown counsel exercise their independent professional judgment in coming to decisions on matters such as those I have referred to, but in cases of difficulty they may, and do, refer questions for his decision.

The Lord Advocate has decided to instruct that no decision to drop proceedings altogether in any case of murder or rape should be taken before the hearing of evidence has begun without the question being referred to him for decision.

Mr. Bruce Millian (Glasgow, Craigton)

We have just listened to a wholly unsatisfactory statement. This is an absolutely horrifying case. May I first of all pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) as the constituency MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and Scottish newspapers, particularly the Daily Record, for pursuing this matter with such persistence, because, without that, we would not have had a statement in this House at all.

I am glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman has apologised for making a statement yesterday, but that is not the most serious part of his offence. When we had the first leak from the Crown Office, as presumably it was, as to why there had been no prosecution in this case, the grounds given were the mental health of the victim, and that is, of course, absolutely compatible with the statement that the Solicitor-General for Scotland has just read to us. However, what the hon. and learned Gentleman said yesterday, as quoted in the newspapers, is completely incompatible with what he has just said to us this afternoon. What he was quoted as saying yesterday, presumably accurately, is this: There is no doubt in my mind that the matter of this unfortunate woman's mental stability was irrelevant. Yet the whole of the statement this afternoon says that the reason why the prosecution has not gone ahead has been the condition of the victim herself. The hon. and learned Gentleman, as well as explaining why he said anything at all to the press yesterday, must explain to the House why he said what he did yesterday, because it is completely incompatible with what he said just now in his statement.

However, that is not the only unsatisfactory feature. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there have been statements by young people involved in this particular offence, quoted in full in the Daily Record? Is he aware that the woman herself has said to all the newspapers that she was perfectly willing to give evidence? Is he aware, therefore, that to the layman it looks as if there was a considerable amount of evidence available in this case which would certainly have justified a prosecution? Nothing that has been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman this afternoon will in any way allay the considerable public anxiety in Scotland on this matter.

The last sentence in the hon. and learned Gentleman's statement carries the implication—indeed, more than the implication—that it has actually been the practice up to the present time that murder charges, quite apart from rape charges, have been dropped altogether without reference to the Law Officers. I find that an extraordinary situation, calling into question the competence of the Crown Office and indeed the competence of the hon. and learned Gentleman himself.

Further, the reference to private prosecution is a complete red herring. As far as I am aware, there have been only three attempts made in the present century to bring a private prosecution on criminal matters. Two of them were rejected. The last succesful application for a private prosecution was in 1909. Yet the hon. and learned Gentleman tells us this afternoon that this woman who is not apparently fit enough to give evidence in a normal public trial is potentially fit enough to bring a private prosecution.

That is absolute nonsense and the hon. and learned Gentleman knows that it is. In one of the more recent attempts at a private prosecution, in the M'Bain case in 1961, when the prosecution was refused, what the Lord Justice General said, rather ironically in the light of recent events, was: for such has become the public confidence in the decision of the Lord Advocate and his deputes on the grounds of prosecution that private prosecutions have almost gone into disuse. I have to tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that public confidence in the Law Officers and in the Crown Office is at a very low ebb indeed in Scotland at the present time. We certainly cannot allow this matter to rest on the basis of this statement this afternoon. What we demand is a full judicial inquiry into this extremely worrying and horrifying affair.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

May I make it absolutely plain to the House that I have never at any time said to anybody or held the view that the mental state of this woman was irrelevant. Her mental state was absolutely critical and it was in consideration of the interests of the woman, above all, that the decisions which were taken were taken. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind that her health is still a matter of consideration and I do not wish to say or do anything that could affect it.

Turning to the next matter which the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millian) raised, the question of her willingness to give evidence, I repeat that when she turned up to give evidence she clearly was not capable of doing so. The psychiatric report is clear: she was in danger if she gave evidence. I do not wish to reveal her medical history. Furthermore, if she is now willing to give evidence, it will be recalled that the psychiatric view was that there was no prospect in the reasonably forseeable future that she would be able to give evidence without hazard to her health.

The next matter that was raised was that a murder trial can be dropped without reference to the Law Officers. It has frequently been the practice that in serious cases, particularly murder, before the charge is reduced on indictment from murder to a lesser charge or any lesser plea is accepted, these matters are discussed with the Law Officers. There are situations in which that may not always have been done, but in future it will be.

On the matter of private prosecution, I accept that the last case in which leave was granted was Coats v Brown in 1909, without the concurrence of the Lord Advocate, I may say, but that does not mean that the procedure is not active and available.

I am astonished that it may be that this unfortunate woman who underwent these terrible events wishes now to give evidence. All I can say is that Crown counsel, having to consider her health and her future in the light of her medical history, took the view that it would be improper to force her to give evidence at that time.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to allow 20 minutes for questions on this statement, and then to move to the next business.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Edinburgh, South)

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that those of us on the Conservative Benches share the horror and disgust over the circumstances that gave rise to this case in the first place? Does he agree that the disturbing factor is that the failure to fulfil the public interest was due not to an error in the administration of the law but to the limitations of the law itself? Does he agree that there is a case now for referring questions of rape to the Scottish Law Commission, so that it may look at the matter of evidence in rape trials to see whether rape victims can be further protected in the future?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am not sure that I am willing to give that assurance. I have appeared in many cases involving this appalling crime. It is a very difficult matter, because the question of the victim's consent is critical to proof of the crime. The circumstances may vary in every way. Regrettably, I can see no circumstances in which one can say that the victim should not be put through a further ordeal in court, because I can see no way in which, out of fairness to those who are accused, one could conduct the trial in her absence.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

The Solicitor-General for Scotland must understand that to the layman it is extraordinary that if this poor wretched woman had died as a consequence of the assaults a case would have been brought without question, but because she was reduced, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, to such a condition by the assault that he and the Lord Advocate thought that she could not be in court, the people who did it go free. To the layman that seems incredible.

The media have been criticised. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that in this case the media have virtually acted as a review body and brought the matter to us? Can he assure us that if a private prosecution is brought the Crown Office will offer no impediment whatever?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if a private prosecution is brought the Crown Office will put no impediment whatever in the way of the complainer. The hon. Gentleman said that if the woman had died a prosecution could have been brought. I remind the House that if she had died no prosecution could have been brought for rape; the prosecution could have been brought only for murder. As I said in my statement, and as my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate said in his statement, in the circumstances of this case, to try the attempted murder charge and not the rape charge, or to try both, in the absence of the complainer, was considered not to be a proper process. It is for that reason that it was decided by Crown counsel not to proceed with either.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

Is the Solicitor-General for Scotland aware that this pathetic statement will not restore public confidence in the law? Was there an alleged confession? Was there an eye-witness account? Were there other incriminating statements? Was there forensic evidence? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House the name of the person who decided to drop charges? Has that person been disciplined? Has that person ever been involved in any other controversial cases? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman recommend to the Government that an all-party Select Committee be set up to look into all aspects of the law and procedures relating to cases of rape? As the hon. and learned Gentleman now has no credibility left, will he resign?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

First, I do not intend to comment on the evidence, for the reasons that I gave at the beginning. It is not proper to do so, and in the circumstances of this case it would certainly risk prejudicing both the complainer, if she continues to complain, and the accused who are presumed to be innocent, whoever they may be.

Secondly, I shall not name any person who took the responsibility in the Crown Office. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] The decisions were taken by responsible and highly qualified Crown counsel in the very difficult circumstances of this case, acting as they believed in the best interests of the woman complainer and in the interests of justice. As I said in my statement, it was a very difficult decision to take in this case.

Thirdly, I do not think that it would be helpful to set up a special Committee of the House to investigate the particular matters of the crime of rape.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

In the light of some recent cases, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the Strathclyde police acted most humanely, efficiently and effectively, and indeed apprehended the scoundrels? Can he assure the House that where there are witnesses to a case of rape there is no way in which in future a rapist will avoid trial?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I caution my hon. Friend to remember that we have a presumption of innocence. Although certain persons were accused on indictment, it should not be forgotten in the House that they may all have had separate interests and separate defences. I should not want the idea to go forth from this House that we assume that those who are accused on indictment are to be taken to have been found guilty of any offence. However, I commend the diligence of the Strathclyde police, who I think acted, as they do in every case in which very difficult decisions must be made, with great diligence and great humanity.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

Was the woman herself directly asked whether she would give evidence? I suggest to the hon. and learned Gentleman that her previous history is nothing to do with the situation in which she found herself. Does he agree that what has happened in Scotland gives licence to rapists to rape and then cut up their victims, because they may then go scot-free?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

As to whether the woman concerned was asked to give evidence, it was obvious that she was not capable of giving evidence. That is why Crown counsel obtained a psychiatric report. I cannot inform the House of the contents of the medical history, because I do not think that it would be in the interests of the woman to do so. All that I can say, on my responsibility, is that it was clear that the woman was in no state to be subjected to the ordeal of giving evidence. I said that her medical history which was taken into consideration was her medical history following the events.

May I say very sincerely that I do not think that any message goes from this case that a person who cuts up his victim will get away with rape. This is a unique case, unique in all my experience of such cases in the High Court. I do not think that that is an inference that will be drawn. I am certain that the public need have no fear that it will be.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)

If the doctor or psychiatrist gives information in a report to the effect that it will be seriously damaging to the health of a victim to give evidence, surely this is a factor that the Crown Office is fully entitled to take into account.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

It is a very important matter which should be taken into account. In considering the victim, one should also take into account that if allegations are to be made—as no doubt they would be made by the defence in a rape case which was defended—it is important that they should not be made in the victim's absence, so that the woman has no opportunity to reply to them.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The Solicitor-General has not responded positively to the suggestion that a judicial inquiry should be set up. He has rejected the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) that the whole question of the evidence in rape should be submitted to the Scottish Law Commission. He has rejected the suggestion that the House should consider the matter. The only change that he has suggested is a change in the prosecution procedure. It appears from the whole tenor of his statement that if it had been made in this case there would have been precisely the same result, because he has backed Crown counsel's decision in everything that he has said. Does he realise that his response to the situation is completely inadequate?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The crime of rape is horrendous. It can take many different forms, between people who know one another and between people who are complete strangers. There is a very big spectrum in this crime. It has special difficulties which no other serious crime has because it involves sexual relations and the consent to sexual relations. It is a difficult area of the law. I have heard no suggestion from any quarter, as I should be glad to, as to how one can establish proof in the event of the denial by an accused person in the absence of the woman giving evidence.

Mr. Alex Pollock (Moray and Nairn)

May I take it from what the Solicitor-General for Scotland has told the House that although press reports concentrated initially on the physical ability of the complainer to give evidence, nevertheless another major factor in the mind of Crown counsel must have been the sufficiency and admissibility of evidence? Can he assure the House that the Lord Advocate is fully satisfied with the professional competence and expertise of the Crown counsel involved?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. There would in this case have been very difficult questions of admissibility, competency and sufficiency of evidence had the matter gone to trial, even with the evidence of the complainer. But in the absence of the evidence of the complainer, Crown counsel, with great experience and full responsibility, took the view that it was not proper to proceed and thereafter took the view that it would not be proper to leave the woman in doubt about whether she might still have to give evidence.

In an earlier answer I think I said that if a victim was killed, rape could not be charged. Of course, if the victim was killed and there was evidence from bystanders of rape while she was alive, in those circumstances rape could be charged, but that is rather a different matter.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

The hon. and learned Gentleman's statement is extremely unsatisfactory and will be regarded so not only in the House but outside. May I ask him if he has had an opportunity to note that as recently as 15 January there was a case at the Old Bailey when four people were charged with a series of sexual offences, including attempted rape on a woman, and all four were sent to prison? In that case the victim was a woman of 22, said to have the mental age of a child of 7. Is it clearly not absolutely unsatisfactory that a victim in Scotland should get less justice than a woman in England who was subjected to similar attacks?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

It is impossible to give shorthand comparisons of cases. If I knew the entire facts of the case to which the hon. Lady referred, and if she knew the entire facts of another case, it might be sensible to draw conclusions. But in the absence of those facts it is dangerous to make comparisons, and it confuses and upsets the public. May I say this to the hon. Lady, however? There is a report in the newspapers today that in Scotland rape has been dealt with in four cases by non-custodial sentences. Let me assure the public that that is not so. In relation to the cases to which reference was made, the people being under age were in three cases sentenced to detention during Her Majesty's pleasure and to a guardianship order in the fourth case.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there is grave public concern about rape? Can he tell the House whether the incidence of rape in Scotland and/or in Britain is on the increase or the decrease? Can he also say whether in cases of rape, like violence within the family, it is difficult to get at the truth and that drink is often an important factor? Was drink a factor in this case?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am not willing to divulge whether drink was a factor in this case, because that is a matter of evidence and it might well affect both the prosecution and defence if the case were to come to court. I have not the figures with me but thankfully the crime of rape has in recent years not been so significant in the criminal figures as previously. Let me say that the Crown Office and Crown counsel take the most serious view of the crime of rape. I prosecuted a crime of rape in the High Court in Glasgow last week and obtained a conviction in a case, I may say, in which the evidence was such that one might not have obtained a conviction. [HON. MEMBERS: "Then what is the difference?"]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions will continue for another four minutes and that sort of noise will stop someone from being called.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I do not wish to be misunderstood. Let me just say that there is no lack in the Crown Office of vigour to get a conviction in a crime of rape where that charge is made out and a conviction is possible.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Does the Solicitor-General for Scotland recall a speech that he made specifically on rape on 19 July 1977 when he said that rape involves an activity that is normal, that we had no problem in Scotland and that if there were a serious offence there would be a heavy sentence? In view of those opinions which he expressed then and presumably how holds, does he think he is a fit person to hold the position he has?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman may be particularly trying to mislead the House as to the meaning of my words. What distinguishes sexual offences from offences such as murder, stabbing, theft and the like is that they involve a human relationship and not purely or necessarily purely criminal activity. That is why the crime of rape is so difficult. I have a long experience of it and I can assure hon. Members—[Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

At the risk of allowing the Solicitor-General for Scotland to put his foot in it once more, may I ask him three questions arising out of the statement which he made? First, in relation to the crime of serious assault with which three of the persons concerned had been charged and to which there is no defence of consent, would he care to explain why that charge was not pursued even if he had special difficulties in relation to rape? Secondly, in relation to his statement that there was a psychiatric examination at or about the time of the trial, can he say on how many other occasions the psychiatrist was asked to inspect or see the lady in question to ascertain whether there had been any recovery or chance of recovery? Thirdly, will he not indicate to the House why he failed, in view of all the difficulties which he has mentioned, to take an application to the High Court of Justiciary in relation to the right to take evidence on commission so that at the very least that attempt might have been made to bring the case to public trial?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am sure that all of us who were on the Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill appreciate that under section 32 it was intended that evidence that was not unfair to both parties and evidence of a neutral character should be taken. It was never the intention of Parliament that the evidence of a complainer in a rape case should be taken in the absence of the accused and the jury on commission. I do not believe that that could have fallen in the ambit of section 32.

The psychiatrist did not examine the woman on other occasions, but in his prognosis he stated that, if the woman gave evidence in the foreseeable future, she would be put at risk.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to serious assault. Rape is distinguished by the concept of consent. Other crimes are not. The view was taken by the Crown counsel that the two charges were related in time and place to such an extent that it would not be proper to charge one without the other. To charge both in the absence of the complainer would be prejudical and wrong. For the most responsible and humane of reasons, he considered that in this case the prosecution should be dropped.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

The Solicitor-General will be aware that he was apparently quoted in the evening press last night in the following terms: I believe that the decision was a correct one…However, there is no doubt in my mind that the matter of this unfortunate woman's mental stability was irrelevant. Do I take it from what the Solicitor-General said today that he did not say that to the press? It is important to establish that.

It is proper to refuse to divulge the information that would allay public disquiet on the grounds that there might be a private prosecution if, as the press reports the Solicitor-General as saying, it is a simple and inescapable fact that there is insufficient evidence in the case? Is that still the hon. and learned Gentleman's position? Does he accept that there is genuine public anxiety about how, given the possibility of recovery by the key witness, a letter was written to the accused that barred the Crown Office from raising any other proceedings? At best, we must have a full explanation of why that was done and why, as is normal practice, the indictment was not abandoned pro loco et tempore and left lying on the table in the hope that the deficiencies in evidence would be cured.

Will the Solicitor-General accept that at the earliest opportunity he must find some way of dealing with the apparent evidence that was printed in the Daily Record, which purported to show a full confession and which stated that there was an eye witness who could have been used in evidence? If that is so, prima facie there was a possiblility of mounting a prosecution for assault to severe injury. The public will want to know why that was not done.

If the Solicitor-General looks at his statement, he will see that, in dealing with the possibility of another charge being proceeded with, this phrase, which I am sure was much considered, is used: it would not have been proper". That is different from saying "It was impossible". It is open to infer from that statement that there was a point of etiquette, that it would not have been proper to proceed with another charge, but there was sufficient eviidence to do it. If that is so, public disquiet is fully justified. Will the Solicitor-General give anxious consideration to a form of judicial inquiry, perhaps when the possibility of a private prosecution is decided one way or another, because there is no way in which this case will go to sleep? It is too central to public confidence in the system of justice in Scotland.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I repeat to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) that at no time have I said that the mental state of the woman was irrelevant to anyone. It was central to every consideration. Hon. Members might believe that the people concerned were too sensitive about the effects on the woman's health. However, the woman's state of mental health and her future safety have been central to all decisions.

At no time have I suggested that there was insufficient evidence, were the complainer to have given evidence. However, in the absence of the complainer, the Crown counsel considered that it would not be proper to proceed on that basis.

The hon. Gentleman asked why the case was not deserted pro loco et tempore. The choice before the Crown counsel was to desert simpliciter or to leave the prospect that one day the woman, if she sufficiently recovered, would have to give evidence. The woman would continue to be under the expectation or fear of giving evidence. In considering the effect of that decision on the woman, it was decided that, in view of the psychiatrist's conclusion that in the foreseeable future the woman would not be fit to give evidence, the case should not proceed. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the evidence that was available. As I have said, I am not willing to divulge or comment on the evidence, for obvious reasons.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the use of the word "proper". No one in the House is more concerned than the hon. Gentleman about the protection of the rights of the accused. I should have thought that he would be the last person to suggest that it would be proper to bring allegations of rape to a trial in the High Court in the absence of the complainer, believing that they could not be proved, if it was necessary to do so in order to leave the evidence in the second charge.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise to you for not having given notice that I intended to raise this point of order, but I did not expect the way in which the situation has developed this afternoon. The House has been put into an impossible position. On Tuesday, it was known that the Solicitor-General for Scotland would make a statement to the House, although it was not known on which day the statement would be made. The Leader of the House generously apologised to the House during Business Questions for the indiscretions of the Solicitor-General. The right hon. Gentleman's apology was followed by one by the Solicitor-General for the press statements that appeared yesterday.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland has now proceeded to deny the press statements for which he apologised. He has made a statement that is a complete contradiction of everything that appeared in the press. The House cannot function properly on that basis. With respect, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider the developments not only today but over the last three days. Perhaps you will make a statement to the House either tomorrow or on Monday on the way in which the House has been treated and perhaps you will refer the matter to the appropriate Committee.

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but the House will realise that it must make its own judgments about statements. It is not a matter of order for me.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for the additional time that you have permitted for this distressing case to be discussed, but with respect, as a number of questions have been unanswered and as only a few more hon. Members wish to question the Solicitor-General for Scotland, can you not extend the time for questions?

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry, but 50 minutes or more have been spent on this question. That is longer than is allowed for other important issues that come before the House.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would appeal to your generosity. I know that half an hour has elapsed since we started, but this is a matter that concerns the whole House of Commons and not just Scottish Members. There are substantial points that I and I believe, other English Members wish to put. I understand entirely, Mr. Speaker, why you called Scottish Members first. This is, however, a matter where legitimate interest extends beyond Scottish Members. I would crave your indulgence, in the exceptional circumstances, to allow more time for hon. Members to catch your eye on this unprecedented matter.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take the point of order from the hon. Member below the Gangway. I believe there were also two other hon. Members seeking to catch my eye. I can tell them now that they can save the time of the House and their own time if they merely wish to ask me to continue with questions. I have made a statement to which we must stick. Otherwise we shall be all over the place in relation to other statements.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Further to the original point of order, Mr. Speaker, and your reply. I suggest, with respect, that there are wide ramifications that present both the Chair and hon. Members with difficulties. It would help, I suggest, if hon. Members were able to have a word with you privately in your office to enable you to consider the points that they make. Hon. Members may be able to put to you suggestions that could stop this sort of thing happening in the future. That would be helpful to all concerned.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House as long as I have. I value his advice. I am always willing to see hon. Members. Not a day passes without my having some private conversation with an hon. Member. No one would be more welcome than the hon. Gentleman himself

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there not some danger that if the House continues with questions in this emotive atmosphere, we might be submitting trial by media or even trial by this House for trial by the courts? Would that not be unsatisfactory?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not serving the House by continuing now.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Huddersfield, West)


Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept what I say. If he merely wishes to ask me to allow questions to continue, I must tell him that he would be doing a favour to himself, to me and to the House if he would remain in his seat. I am not changing my mind.

Mr. Dickens

I am seeking, Mr. Speaker, to do a favour for every woman in the United Kingdom—[Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It was well worth calling the hon. Gentleman. I await the rest of his point of order.

Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)

So does every woman.

Mr. Dickens

I am deeply sorry that my raising a point of order has caused such merriment, but this is a very serious matter. It is of paramount importance to every woman in the country. I believe that, for the sake of a few seconds on each speech, we should allow questions to continue for at least 10 minutes.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his few seconds.