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Sir Nicholas Lyell: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Does he agree that it is when the going gets rough and one aspect of opinion that is very unpopular needs to be mentioned, that these so-called privileges and immunities that grant real freedom of speech are at their most important?

Mr. Tyler: I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman and now that he is on the Opposition rather than the Government Benches I am delighted to hear him say that. As a member of, hopefully, a not too permanent minority, I am more used to that experience perhaps than he. He is right to say that every Member of Parliament should be well aware that the minority view must be given its opportunity. We are representing not ourselves, but minorities in the country and that is a principle to which we must attach enormous importance.

The Committee tried to grapple with the difficult problem of natural justice and the normal rights of the individual, be it the individual Member of Parliament--he or she has rights, too--or the citizen. Members of this House and those in the other place, whatever they are going to call themselves--senators, peers of the realm, lords of Parliament, or whatever--have rights in terms of natural justice. It is extremely important that we have what the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) referred to, I think, as equity. We should not be treated differently and nor should citizens be treated less carefully when it comes to concerns about their rights.

That is why it is so important that we introduce as fast as possible comprehensive legislation on corruption. We cannot continue with a situation in which there appears to be one law for the legislators, and another law for the ordinary citizen. The sooner such legislation is enacted, the better.

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As has been pointed out, there is a draft corruption Bill in our report, brought to us by the Home Secretary. If it is now kicked into touch or put on the back burner, the House has a right to know why that delay is taking place.

The Committee tried to recognise the facts of 21st century life. The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne referred to the internet. As I recall the discussion, it was not so much about whether parliamentary proceedings should or should not be publicised in that way, as about what their status would be if they were. It was not the responsibility of a Joint Committee on privilege to decide what should or should not be published, but we were concerned to ensure the appropriate level of protection for that publication. For both the electronic media and the broadcast media, we wanted to ensure that there were practical answers to practical questions.

Outside the House, it may be thought that the Committee's work on corruption and the extent to which the House disciplines itself was a knee-jerk reaction to a set of particular cases. That was decidedly not so. A discussion lasting 15 or 16 months is hardly a knee-jerk reaction. In any event, we were not obsessed by particular cases.

However, it has been pointed out by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West, who was much more involved than I, that there was widespread unease about the way in which a number of cases had to be dealt with. It was felt that the machinery in the House was fragile, inadequate and not up to the job. There was concern that had it not been for the fact that in at least one case, the person concerned admitted a number of charges and only one charge gave rise to dissension, we might have been in an extremely difficult situation in the House, or we might have been challenged outside.

As the report makes clear, the Committee was not happy with the way in which the previous arrangements had worked, and we wanted to create a more robust mechanism for the future. Were it not for the admission of various charges in those cases, we might have ended up with a parliamentary impasse, which would have been gravely damaging. Reference is made to section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996. That reflects the recognition that there were fault lines in the system. We never anticipated such difficulties. In the report, we have managed to take a more sensible overview of the problems and the opportunities for improvement.

Reference has been made to the significance of Pepper v. Hart. Never having heard of Pepper v. Hart before joining the Committee, as I frankly confess, I found the discussion in the Committee and in the House this evening illuminating. It is important that we see that that judgment is being treated with wise caution by the courts, and rightly so.

As I understand it, the court may take account of what is said by a Minister in the circumstances described only if doubt exists. Where else is the court to turn? All too often in the past, because the court was prevented from taking note of what was said in the House in those circumstances, courts were left to make invidious decisions. It is surely better that if there is doubt, the court should be able to refer to the explanation of Ministers.

We heard exchanges earlier between former Ministers about the extent to which the arrival of the Pepper v. Hart judgment changed their attitude when answering

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questions in Committee. On balance, I would prefer Ministers to be cautious, rather than generously expansive, and to say, "I do not know the answer to that."

Sir Nicholas Lyell indicated assent.

Mr. Tyler: I see a distinguished former Minister nodding. I would prefer Ministers to say, "I will let the hon. Gentleman know at the next sitting", or to find some other way of providing information, rather than shooting from the hip and possibly getting into trouble with the courts. There is no harm in such caution.

I shall not refer in detail to all the other recommendations, which I support. The issue of the sub poena is realistically assessed in the report, and I hope that the courts will exercise their usual discretion in deciding whether an attempt to subpoena a Minister or a Member is vexatious or merely political. I hope that the courts will be sane and sensible in such circumstances.

Sir Nicholas Lyell rose--

Mr. Tyler: I hope that I am not about to be discouraged from that thought.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: Does the hon. Gentleman share my caution that Ministers who have been subpoenaed improperly, as has been mentioned in the debate, have frequently had to send lawyers, at considerable public expense, to prevent them being brought unjustifiably to court? Ought there to be some system whereby the House would assist or find some public means of assisting its Members who were unjustifiably subpoenaed, so that the courts could consider the arguments with proper representation?

Mr. Tyler: I was coming to that point, and I am extremely grateful for support from such a distinguished source. If a Minister is subpoenaed, the mechanisms are in place to deal with the matter, but an ordinary Member, or a Minister in the capacity of a constituency Member, could be put to considerable expense. I know that there have been such cases recently. I hope that the Minister will deal with the matter in his response, or that the Leader of the House will consider it urgently through the usual channels. The point could well be pursued, to the benefit of individual Members and of the House.

Regardless of whether we get a Bill soon and what it is called, a major exercise of education and information is necessary. One or two of the Committee's recommendations refer to that. For example, we state:

That is relevant to witnesses who come before Select Committees, for example. It is of supreme importance that the law is seen to be observed, so people must understand how the issue is addressed in the two Houses.

Perhaps that exercise in education could extend to the media, which seem to find it increasingly difficult to understand our proceedings. I heard the exchange between the right hon. Member for East Devon and other hon. Members about the summons to the Bar of the House. I suspect that some reporters would think that a summons

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to the Bar of the House meant that they would be offered a drink. It is important for us to explain what is meant by such expressions.

I have some experience of that. When I was a Member in 1974, I had occasion to make a complaint about privilege, and my union, the National Union of Journalists, was to be summoned to the Bar of the House and was looking forward to it. The union was only dissuaded from that, and persuaded to apologise to the Chair, when it was realised that matters might go further and involve other penalties that were much less fun.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): In 1967 I was summoned to the Bar of the House. The reaction of Mr. Callaghan, for example, was that he did not take part in blood rituals. That encapsulated the problem.

Mr. Tyler: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but my point stands that the summons is not as effective as the penalties that we suggest in the report.

My main point is that we are discussing not the privileges of individual Members of the House of Commons or of the other place, but those of Parliament--an institution--and our responsibility to ensure that we are able freely to conduct our business, represent our constituents and look after the nation's interests. That is why "privilege" is such a misnomer.

Finally, I have some points to put to the Minister. We must know this evening what the Government's intentions are, in broad terms. The Queen's Speech may give us more detail about the corruption Bill, but the whole House will be extremely concerned if it is being put on the back burner. The sooner we are told about that, the better.

No concerns about the broad thrust of the whole range of recommendations have been expressed this evening or during Committee proceedings. Although the Leader of the House said that they were tentative, I hope that the Government will express their major misgivings should they have any.

I can say on behalf of my party--I think that this is true of all parties--that we regard this matter as a parliamentary concern, not a question of party politics. Therefore, I hope that there will be a free vote across the House on it. Such a Bill is an absolutely excellent candidate for the procedure that we have adopted, on the recommendation of the Modernisation Committee, for pre-legislative scrutiny. Precisely such a Bill could be introduced rapidly as a draft measure and given the consideration it surely deserves.

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