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Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Most journalists whom I know would welcome the prospect of coming before the House in that way. The right hon. Gentleman should reconsider his proposition.

Sir Peter Emery: That was not the case with Mr. John Junor. That is why I say that we should go for the proprietor, who would not wish it, as well the hon. Gentleman knows.

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There are difficulties and complications in preserving the rights of Parliament. There is no doubt that we may often be open to much criticism in trying to preserve our privileges, but we have in Britain the fairest and, I think, the finest Parliament anywhere in the world. We are lucky to be part of it and, at all costs, it must be preserved.

5.12 pm

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne): The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) made a useful and instructive speech. I am not sure that his solution to the problem of leaks is right. The privileges part of the Standards and Privileges Committee dealt with one aspect of leaks from Select Committees. It was important because there was a leak direct from a Select Committee to the Department concerned. That is a very serious matter because the Department could have interfered with the Committee's draft report. I am not so worried about final reports being leaked before publication because they are settled and cannot be interfered with. It is serious leaks before reports are finalised that trouble me. Departments involving themselves in the preparation of reports is serious. It is not that which occurred in this case, but there was a possibility that it could happen in future. We have dealt firmly with that.

I shall make a few brief comments. The first concerns the point that the shadow Leader of the House rightly made about Parliament's sovereignty over its own business. He pointed to the creative tension between the lawyers and the parliamentarians on the Joint Committee. Creative tension can be of value, but why did we have to have a lawyer as Chairman? We had an ex-Home Secretary on the Committee, and I should have thought that the balance should have been on the parliamentary side. The Chairman is a very able man of great distinction. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), for whom I have great respect, has great admiration for him and that is fully justified. I was prompted to intervene on this point by the views of the Officers and Members of the Western Australian Parliament. They felt that this approach was far too legalistic and that there was far too much involvement of lawyers. I share their view. The lawyers should, as they say, be on tap but not on top. They were certainly needed, but why was the process so legalistic? Why are there legalisms throughout so much of the report?

Sir Patrick Cormack: I do not think that the lawyers came out on top. They made a valuable contribution to our discussions. I must be honest. I have not said this before anywhere, in public or in private, but, at the beginning, I shared the right hon. Gentleman's prejudice against having a Law Lord in the Chair. However, I became convinced that it was the right decision, not only because of the Chairman's intrinsic quality but because of the qualities that he was able to bring to the chairmanship. Although we dealt with the matter in a wholly bipartisan, non-party political manner, he was so removed from the field that it was a positive help to us all in Committee. Although I understand why the right

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hon. Gentleman takes the line that he does, I suspect that, had he been on the Committee, he would have been likewise persuaded.

Mr. Sheldon: I would have preferred the hon. Gentleman to be the Chairman. This is not a lawyers' do but a parliamentary one, and we should have had parliamentary people in charge. By all means, let us get as much expertise as we can, but I urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, if we have ever again have to deal with such matters--in which case these debates may be examined--to ensure that parliamentary representation is predominant.

Mr. Alan Williams: The Chairman was not in charge and nor were the lawyers. The Committee was in charge and did the voting.

Mr. Sheldon: I am very much aware of that. I understand my right hon. Friend's point of view, but to have a Chairman from the legal side when it is a parliamentary matter is wrong. I felt that I should say so because my view is shared by those from whom I heard in Western Australia.

My next point concerns the interpretation of privilege by the courts. The courts have undoubtedly been encroaching on privilege for a long time. That is mentioned in paragraph 381. I want it stopped or, if anything, reversed. We have run our own affairs very well for hundreds of years. I see no particular advantage in the courts involving themselves more than is absolutely necessary. I understand that some of the report's points are valuable, but I shall not refer to them all.

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said that we cannot turn back the clock. Surely we could do precisely that if it were the will of the House. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we thought that on any of these matters the courts had got it wrong, had encroached on or diminished in any way what we thought correctly and appropriately a matter of privilege, it is the right and obligation of the House to take the appropriate legislative action to correct what the courts may have done in error?

Mr. Sheldon: The right hon. Gentleman has always had much praise from me for being the one reactionary to whom I listen with respect, but I am not prepared to follow him in many of the matters that he raises. Clearly, we have gone too far. It is time to take account of that in any changes that we make.

I shall deal briefly with the internet. I put the matter to Lord Nicholls personally. The House must excuse me for pursuing my hobby horse, but it is one that many people will be able to ride. The reports and activities of Select Committees must find a suitable place on the internet. For example, this morning I searched the internet to find out what the Home Secretary had said to a Select Committee. His evidence was not there. That matter is enormously important to the House. One could normally look up such evidence on the internet in a matter of seconds instead of going to read it in the Library, which may not even have it. That evidence could have been a matter for discussion

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or it could have come up in Prime Minister's Question Time, but it was not on the internet and Lord Nicholls's Committee did not want it there.

I have been able to persuade the House of Commons Commission of my case, at least in part. It has accepted that a Select Committee may put certain evidence on the internet, but only in the case of ministerial interviews. That would have applied to the Home Secretary's evidence. From the beginning of the next Session, we will be able, on the morning after a Committee sitting, to look up on the internet ministerial statements and answers if the Select Committee so decides.

I want that provision to be extended, but the Joint Committee did not want that. It said, comparing such evidence to Hansard:

It is undoubtedly right that we must be fair to witnesses. However, there is nothing to stop any journalist writing down what is being said in the Committee and putting it in the following morning's paper. Despite that, we cannot get that evidence on the internet.

One of our advantages is that we can put the evidence on the internet, state clearly that it is only uncorrected evidence and that the final evidence will contain any correction. Making that evidence available would not, therefore, affect the final outcome of the investigation, and that would be clear. The sooner we realise that we are living at the end of the 20th century, the sooner we can make that information available at a level that is commensurate with the need for it.

Sir Peter Emery: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is naughty of me to intervene when I have just spoken, but I want to reinforce his point. The proceedings of many of those Select Committees are taped and are therefore available for any television station in the country to broadcast within hours of their taking place, so why should they be prevented from being published on the internet? That seems nonsensical.

Mr. Sheldon: I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The Nicholls Committee did not accept that proposal because it thought that it would be unfair to witnesses who might have second thoughts about what they had said. I find that unacceptable. On the internet, it would be made clear that the publication was a provisional account of the Select Committee's proceedings, which would be published fully as soon as corrections could be made. That would not affect the Committee's final decisions. The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw further attention to the matter.

Sir Patrick Cormack: The right hon. Gentleman has a good point. The Joint Committee was concerned that witnesses who are not Ministers and who are not experienced in appearing before Select Committees feel awe when they do so and are therefore vulnerable. That was why we came to the conclusion that we did. However,

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it is important that the right hon. Gentleman has made his points, and he has certainly given us something to think about.

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