HC Deb 19 November 1986 vol 105 cc563-4 3.36 pm
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the importance of the matters, as you pointed out, which were raised yesterday in points of order after Prime Minister's questions, and in view of the reports in the press today, would it be helpful if the application of the sub judice rule in the House could be clarified?

You were asked yesterday, Mr. Speaker, whether the sub judice rule in the House applied in the case of the proceedings at present before the Australian courts. You ruled that it did not. Your ruling was based on the guidance given in "Erskine May". That lays down that such cases as are covered by the rule may not be referred to in any debate or question. The rule does not apply to matters which are sub judice in courts which are outside the United Kingdom. It was on that basis that you permitted questions to be put yesterday which related to those proceedings.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that she accepted your ruling on sub judice so far as the House is concerned. However, it may be that some misunderstanding arose from the use of the words "sub judice" in two senses. First, there is the sense in which the sub judice rule applies in the House. Secondly, there is a wider sense in which the words are used to refer to matters that are before the courts in this country or elsewhere. The first is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, as guardian of the rights of right hon. and hon. Members. The second is a matter which Ministers may wish to consider when deciding on the appropriate way to answer questions. That is a matter for them. Therefore, it is for hon. Members to see that the questions that they ask are in order. It is for Ministers to decide how to answer them.

Will you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that the position is as I have outlined it and that it reflects accurately your own understanding? It may he that misunderstandings arose yesterday from the two different uses of the words "sub judice", and, therefore, that the Prime Minister yesterday neither challenged your ruling nor said anything that was in any way out of order.

Mr. Speaker

Yes, I can confirm that the position is as the hon. Gentleman has stated it. I have nothing to add to what I said yesterday and nothing to subtract from it.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order on this issue, Mr. Speaker. "Ministers may wish to consider" is the kind of classic phrase that comes in a Government brief. Should not we know whether the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) was reading from a Government brief?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me.