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Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I am delighted to take part in what, I concur with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), is a very important debate, even though there are not very many of us in the House. The issue goes to the heart of our constitution and the constitutional position of the House in our arrangements, but I shall be brief because I agree with everything that I have heard so far.
As the hon. Member for North Cornwall mentioned, the Bill of Rights of 1688 was a very important constitutional measure and it is as valid today as it was in 1688. Parliament fought hard against the Crown to establish its right to be free from any kind of oppression from the Crown to express its view, and to ensure that Members themselves should be free, not on their own behalf but on behalf of their constituents and others, to make a case free from the fear of being oppressed by the Crown oreven worselocked up or jailed. We should be conscious of that privilege, which was won so hard so many years ago, but we must also be conscious of the need to exercise if responsibly. That is the gist of the Minister's case.
I hope that we have achieved the right balance in the motion before us. It is important that we ensure that there is a separation of powers, and that we ensure that the courts have freedom to interpret the legislation as passed by Parliamentalthough I must say that I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the way in which the judges are becoming politicised and seeking in too many cases to usurp the duties and responsibilities of Parliament to make the law, by seeking to stretch their interpretation to such an extent that they are almost defying the will of Parliament. However, that is a bigger argument than that with which we are faced today, so I shall not proceed too far down that avenue, except to say that I think that it is not simply a question of being purist about the right of the courts to determine issues without Parliament being in contempt of the courts by raising those issues which could not be raised otherwise.
On the point about Ministers trying to hide behind the sub judice rule, I saw the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office nodding earlier to show that he is of the view that Ministers should not seek that refuge.
The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) was right to allude to the Pinochet case as being a good example of the difficulties that the House has faced and that we want to resolve. It was absurd that all the newspapers were discussing that case, it was being discussed on television and radioeveryone was talking about itand that this House was the only place that was not allowed to discuss it.
The Home Secretary had finally to make a judgment. I am entirely happy about the exercise of that discretion. It should not have been left to the courts; it was an issue of national importance in which leaving it to the discretion of an elected Minister of the Crown was the right way to proceed. However, it was nonsense that we could not question the Home Secretary, who was to make the final decision, when all the newspapers and everyone else were making their representations to him.
Since the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North raised this matter on behalf of the Labour party, as did the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party, perhaps I can do so on behalf of the Conservative party, so that we have a united front in declaring to the Chair that we wish to place it firmly on the record that it is the view of the House as assembled here todaygiven the massive number of Members presentthat we hope and expect the Chair to be robust in interpreting this resolution in favour of the House so that it has an opportunity to debate issues in the manner set out in the motion. If there is an area of doubt, I hope that the Chair will err on the side of the House rather than that of caution.
Mr. Stephen Twigg: As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) implied from the Conservative Front Bench, I am getting used to these debates of great national importance and to crossing swords with him and other hon. Members on these matters. I assure the House that on the doorsteps of Enfield, Southgate in June no more important issue came up than the changes to the sub judice rule. Perhaps that is reflected in the turnout here this afternoon. I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for their constructive contributions to our short debate.
When I was asked to propose this motion today, I had a similar sense of trepidation to that described by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)that we would have a debate full of lawyers. In fact, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) was the only lawyer to speak and he made a useful and constructive contribution. I do not intend to cover ground that was covered in my opening remarks. I simply thank all hon. Members for their support.
I very much agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall, who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, that we are seeking greater clarity and also balance. That is important and it is also central to the matter. I also agree with the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) that there is real concern about the balance being right and the fact that sometimes it is not. I will not be tempted to take
I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you heard what the hon. Gentleman said. I can reiterate that there is clearly cross-party support for a strong and robust stance from the Chair, both in the Chamber and in Committees. I am pleased that we have such broad and strong support for this proposed change and, therefore, I commend it to the House.
That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, and to the right of the House to legislate on any matter or to discuss any delegated legislation, the House in all its proceedings (including proceedings of committees of the House) shall apply the following rules on matters sub judice:
1. Cases in which proceedings are active in United Kingdom courts shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question.
(a)(i) Criminal proceedings are active when a charge has been made or a summons to appear has been issued, or, in Scotland, a warrant to cite has been granted.
(ii) Criminal proceedings cease to be active when they are concluded by verdict and sentence or discontinuance, or, in cases dealt with by courts martial, after the conclusion of the mandatory post-trial review.
(b)(i) Civil proceedings are active when arrangements for the hearing, such as setting down a case for trial, have been made, until the proceedings are ended by judgment or discontinuance.
(ii) Any application made in or for the purposes of any civil proceedings shall be treated as a distinct proceeding.
(c) appellate proceedings, whether criminal or civil, are active from the time when they are commenced by application for leave to appeal or by notice of appeal until ended by judgment or discontinuance.
But where a ministerial decision is in question, or in the opinion of the Chair a case concerns issues of national importance such as the economy, public order or the essential services, reference to the issues or the case may be made in motions, debates or questions.
2. Specific matters which the House has expressly referred to any judicial body for decision and report shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question from the time when the Resolution of the House is passed until the report is laid before the House.
3. For the purposes of this Resolution
(a) Matters before Coroners Courts or Fatal Accident Inquiries shall be treated as matters within paragraph 1(a);
(b) 'Motion' includes a motion for leave to bring in a bill; and
(c) 'Question' includes a supplementary question.
Line 40, at end insert the words ", except that for the purposes of taking evidence, the quorum shall be two".