HC Deb 20 June 1984 vol 62 cc289-92 3.31 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is "common criminal", when used to describe an uncharged person, a parliamentary expression? Surely it is as bad as anyone calling someone else a liar.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that I did not hear any one accuse another Member of this place of being a common criminal.

Mr. Dalyell

I make no complaint for being suspended for five days for calling the Prime Minister a liar, Mr. Speaker, but someone else has called uncharged miners common criminals. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Surely it is quite as bad to describe uncharged miners as common criminals as anything that I said about the Prime Minister.

Mr. Speaker

Order. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am concerned with order inside this House. Hon. Members must take responsibility for their own statements. The people to whom the hon. Gentleman refers are outside the House. I am responsible for statements made in the House about fellow hon. Members.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood it to be a rule of the House that we should not refer to issues that are sub judice. The miners who have been arrested and charged have certainly not yet received a fair trial. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) is a lawyer and he knows all about these matters. He has deliberately referred to these miners as common criminals. Surely he should be made to withdraw. I would withdraw if I had said it.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) must be responsible for his own statements in the House. As the House well knows, I am concerned only with accusations that are made about hon. Members.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point relates to your interpretation of the sub judice rule. It is fairly obvious that in the days ahead we shall be in difficulty when Law Officers answer questions on whether miners have been charged and prosecuted. In view of the dangers that lie ahead, Mr. Speaker, I ask you to operate the sub judice rule on the strictest basis possible. There can be no doubt that both the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone), and even more surprisingly the Solicitor-General for Scotland, have prejudiced the trial of every miner in Scotland who has been charged over the past few weeks. There are now no circumstances in which the miners referred to by the Solicitor-General for Scotland can possibly have a fair trial.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I was listening very carefully. The whole House may be assured that in these exchanges I listen with great care for reference to sub judice matters, but no individual names or cases were mentioned at all in the exchanges this afternoon.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the beginning of this exchange it was made clear by the spokesman for the Government that there had been 700-odd arrests of miners. That was the information that had been requested. From them on, discussion centred around those miners who had been arrested but not prosecuted. The result was that the tinpot lawyer who supposedly represents Aberdeen, South then made the charge that those miners were common criminals. On many occasions, Mr. Speaker, you and your predecessors have clearly said that when matters are before the court it is wrong for hon. Members—with special reference to hon. Members on the Opposition Benches —to invoke the idea that people have been charged and prosecuted. You and your predecessors have referred in the main to individuals because in most cases it is simply individuals who are before the courts. Each of those 700 miners is an individual case. One cannot think of them collectively and say, "Let us forget about the miners because there are a lot of them, and anyway, they are only miners." If it was Lord So-and-So, the matter would be regarded differently. I suggest that when people collectively—working-class people, who are the wealth creators — are branded under the so-called sub judice rule, they should be treated in exactly the same way as any of those establishment figures whom you, Mr. Speaker, and your predecessors have gone to great lengths to protect.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that in the past it has been the practice in this House to describe as hooligans persons who attend football matches, and who are subsequently charged, in similar circumstances, with breaking the criminal law? Is it not the case that there is nothing unusual about what has happened today?

Mr. Dalyell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I suggest that you study Hansard tomorrow, and that when you have had an opportunity to see precisely what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) said, and the context in which he said it, you should give us a ruling.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said earlier that hon. Members must be responsible for what they say. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) has had plenty of opportunities to clarify the issue. However, hon. Members are not really responsible for what they say about people outside the House because, presumably, they are protected by parliamentary privilege. The hon. Gentleman has cast a slur. He has suggested that all those people are common criminals, despite the fact that their cases have not yet come before the court. Is there some way in which you can protect citizens outside the House from irresponsible hon. Members inside it?

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not an established rule in this country, although perhaps not in this Chamber, that an individual is innocent until he is proved guilty, whether he is a miner or a layabout lord? Should you not rule on the matter, Mr. Speaker, and make that clear to fancy-pants lawyers and other hon. Members on the Government Benches?

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There are two separate questions to be considered. The first is whether citizens who have been charged but not convicted can rightly be described as common criminals without impinging upon their ability to receive a fair trial. The second point is whether, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, (Mr. Dalyell) has suggested, you might consider this matter at your leisure rather than make a decision immediately in an off-the-cuff manner.

Might I observe, though not in any offensive sense, as we all occasionally say things that we later regret, that if the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) said that these people are common criminals—I know how experienced he is in these matters and do not for a moment believe that he would hold to that view after calm consideration — it would help the House if he would clarify the point and withdraw the allegation, making it clear that he does not make that assertion and will not maintain that someone who has been charged but has not been convicted could properly be described as a common criminal. If he made that clear, it would help the temper of the House, although the technical point is still worthy of investigation.

Mr. Gerald Malone (Aberdeen, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am glad to make my position clear on this matter. I am somewhat surprised that it has been interpreted as it has by Opposition Members. I understood my position to be perfectly clear. It is that no distinction should be made by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General when people are being prosecuted, be they common criminals or miners on the picket lines. I made no allegation about people who have been arrested and are awaiting trial. My comments were clearly directed towards the policy of the prosecution of anyone, be he a common criminal or not.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. These exchanges clearly show that we must exercise extreme caution in the language that we employ in the House. We are certain to have exchanges such as this in the future. It would be extremely difficult for the House if we could not have many questions on these important matters, but we must be cautious about the subjudice rule.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the exchanges that have taken place, is it not crucially important to see what the Official Report says? Will you give an instruction that it will not be doctored by anyone on the other side of the House?

Mr. Speaker

I examine the Official Report carefully every day. I shall look at the report of these exchanges very carefully and shall ensure that it is not changed. It never should be.

Mr. Ewing

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the Official Report shows that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South described miners who have been charged as common criminals—among them is a highly respected councillor in my constituency — will you give the House an assurance that tomorrow the hon. Member will be made to withdraw that remark?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) has already done that.

Several Hon. Members

No, he has not.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has given his interpretation of what he said——

Mr. Canavan

We shall see what Hansard says.

Mr. Speaker

—and we shall see what the Official Report says, yes.