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Mr. Sheldon: The point made by the right hon. Member for East Devon is still correct. Those proceedings can be on the radio and in the following morning's newspapers, but they cannot be suitably presented to Members of Parliament, and that is wrong. The concession on Ministers' evidence was made by the House of Commons Commission and I expect it to be extended in due course.

Mr. Bill Michie: We were concerned about the extent to which reports published in newspapers or on the internet are the authoritative voice of the House. My right hon. Friend is suggesting that we could try to deal with that by saying that the publication is only a report and may be changed, and that what is being published on the internet is not the official organ of the House.

Mr. Sheldon: It would be quite clear that the publication was provisional. Publication has been accepted not only for Ministers' statements but for close questioning of Ministers, during which important matters may arise. It would be nonsense if that provision were not extended in due course.

I turn now to Pepper v. Hart, which is very important. I have not been following that matter closely, but I will be surprised if Ministers are not much more guarded in their replies to questions, particularly in Standing Committees considering legislation, simply because of that case. That would be a great pity because we need greater understanding in Standing Committees of the complicated parts of legislation, and few pieces of legislation are more complicated than a Finance Bill.

Ministers have to sit with their towels round their heads in the early hours of the morning preparing for proceedings on their Bill, knowing full well that many questions may be asked and that they would never have dreamed of some of the questions. They must understand their legislation and advise the Committee to the best of their ability, which means going beyond the words in the Bill, as they must do if they are to be of any use to their Committee in explaining the Bill. I worry that Ministers may be far too cautious in answering crucial questions that could elucidate the legislation.

Mr. Grieve: The courts, in reading what Ministers have said so that they can make a judicial interpretation of a statute, are for the most part trying only to go through the same process of elucidation that the right hon. Gentleman advocates for Committees. Is it not better for a Minister who realises that there may be consequences from the judicial interpretation of his words to be cautious in Committee rather than to express himself in gobbledegook?

Mr. Sheldon: The hon. Gentleman has far too rosy a view of Ministers' understanding of all possible consequences of legislation. All Ministers can do is give an explanation, to the best of their ability, of what the legislation is intended to achieve. A good Minister can make that explanation come to life, so that people better understand the intentions and the likely outcome of the legislation. The Minister's words are no guarantee--

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the guarantee is in the words of the legislation--but without an understanding of that legislation, the Committee will be much the poorer.

Mr. Forth: Perhaps I can put a slightly more positive gloss on what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Many of us feared that televising the House would alter Members' behaviour, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it did not. Very quickly, Members got used to the new ambience, and our behaviour reverted to its previous form. My experience is that, in the same way, Ministers who spend a lot of time in Standing Committees do not have Pepper v. Hart at the front of their minds. They behave naturally and are either effusively explanatory to the Committee or evasively secretive, and Pepper v. Hart does not inhibit their behaviour in long Committee proceedings.

Mr. Sheldon: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is right. He should look at the Standing Committee that deals with the Finance Bill, where those matters come more to the fore. There are two different views of how our attitudes have changed since the coming of television, but I will not go into that.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way as he was the subject of Pepper v. Hart. It was his midnight words in June 1976, if I remember rightly, when he was answering 90 questions put to him by a Committee that contained 12 future Cabinet Ministers and two future Chancellors, that were given so much weight in that interesting case. Does he agree that the courts have fortunately learned to be pretty cautious about using Pepper v. Hart too much? If that is their approach, I believe that they are wise.

Mr. Sheldon: I fully agree. I intervened before the right hon. and learned Gentleman came into the Chamber to explain the background to that case. They were clearly the most talented Opposition to have dealt with any Finance Bill. I was pursued in question after question. I could have ignored those questions, but I tried to be helpful. I was asked, "If that happens, what then?", "If that happens, what now?" I answered to the best of my ability.

When I heard about Pepper v. Hart, I turned to what I had said and, to my pleasure, I found that it was not bad. I could substantiate what I had said, but it could have been otherwise. It might have been a matter on which I had not worked too hard. There are dangers and it is as well for the House to understand that.

Clearly, the report deals with other valuable matters, but I wished to speak briefly to deal with those points.

5.32 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I start with a confession. When the appointment of the Joint Committee was first mooted, in my capacity as Chief Whip I had to select someone to serve on it. As a new Chief Whip, I did not have anyone on whom I wanted to impose a great penalty, so I had to put myself on the Committee--and it has been an interesting experience.

I take issue with the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), as the experience was interesting not least because of the impeccable

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chairmanship of the noble Lord Nicholls. I agree with the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) that the best sort of chairman is someone who can rise above the discussion around the table. Lord Nicholls did so with great distinction and effect.

The draftsmanship of the report, which is uniquely well formed and educational for those of us who are not familiar with many of the topics, is very much due to Lord Nicholls and to the two Clerks. I put it on record that serving on the Committee was an instructive exercise.

We were appointed in July 1998 and we reported in March 1999, yet I think that I am right in saying that not one member left the Committee in that time, which is a tribute to the extent of people's commitment to its work. The business was complicated, but we did not get bored by its subtleties and complexities; that, too, is a tribute to the Chairman.

There were times when Members of this House, who worried that the pace of our business seemed to get slower, felt that the presence of so many lawyers, who tend to weigh the minutes in terms of guineas, slowed up the proceedings somewhat. However, the product that we produced is one of which both Houses should be proud.

I put on record the thanks of all members of the Committee--and I hope all Members of this House--to the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. I was disappointed this afternoon not because the President of the Council and Leader of the House was to introduce the debate, but because I did not see her right hon. Friend here. I had thought that this might be a unique political and parliamentary occasion if, for the first time in living memory, the Government Chief Whip could be allowed to dispel the illusion that he or she is speechless. It would have been a useful opportunity to break with that convention.

The fact that we went back to the Bill of Rights of 1689 has been mentioned. We dealt with three centuries of piecemeal attempts to tackle this difficult subject. Dead wood has been referred to in the debate and it was our job to adopt some sophisticated and comprehensive tree surgery to a complex and difficult bit of growth.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, West referred to a mishmash. Yes, there is a mishmash and I hope that, by bringing it all out into the open comprehensively, we have made it possible for Parliament to review the situation.

I do not accept the view of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that this is an opportunity to turn back the clock--far from it. Now is the opportunity to ensure that we drag this aspect of parliamentary procedures into the 21st century. If we do not do it now, those in the other place will perhaps have to do it for us--it looks as though they will be reformed before this House.

Privilege is a misnomer, as has been said. We are really talking about responsibility, immunity and freedom of speech, and what can be more central to the way in which Parliament serves the nation? Incidentally, when the Bill is introduced that will put these proposals into effect, I hope that we will call it not the parliamentary privilege

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Bill but something better. Even if the long title is more explicit, such a name is a switch-off and it gives the wrong impression to the world.

The Committee's proceedings were dominated by careful assessment of balance. We had to consider independence from the Executive, which is why the Bill of Rights was written--to ensure that never again would Parliament be unduly susceptible to pressure from the Crown. I hope that lawyers will agree that now, as then, Parliament should not be subject to judiciary appointed by the Crown, which was an issue then.

If it were not for the fact that time is getting on, I might be diverted into an analysis of how the Bill of Rights came to be and how my ancestor, Bishop Jonathan Trelawny--one of seven bishops--was arraigned in Westminster Hall and eventually, due to the good sense of a British jury, was let off. The judges were, of course, appointed by the Crown and it was a direct result of that case and the threat of the Cornish to march on London that we got the Bill.

The other balance that is extremely important is that between the individuals in this place and the citizens we represent. Their interests and protection are part of the reason for our protection, because we are representing them. We are defending the privilege of citizens of the British Isles to know that their representative in this place can speak up on their behalf, not the privilege of individual Members of Parliament.

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