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Mr. Alan Williams: That matter is referred to specifically in the report, which recommends that the Committee should be free to call such Members.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Absolutely--I read that recommendation. However, the recommendation is that we would have the right to bring before any Committee of the Commons a Member of the other place. That is my interpretation of the recommendation.

I wish to refer to an inquiry by the Standards and Privileges Committee into the case of a complaint against Lord Steel, who is now the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. The complaint was that, in 1997, he failed to supply an employment agreement in relation to £93,700 that he had received from the Countryside Movement. The complaint was upheld by the Committee. In other words, he was found to be in error.

The Committee's investigation took place after the general election. Lord Steel failed to make the declaration and submit the agreement before the election. If he had done so, it would have been an issue in the election, as a Liberal Democrat would have been identified with that contribution when we debated hunting. We could have asked him to appear before us, but we did not. Why not? The answer is simple: we could do nothing about it. Lord Steel had gone. He had flown off to the other place. We could not punish him by suspending him. In fact, we could do nothing to him. That is why the Committee could have gone a little further in its recommendations. We should have the right to require members of the other place to attend, but we should also have the right to impose a penalty on them for transgressions while they were Members of this House.

The Committee report on the Steel case states:

Had Lord Steel still been a Member of the House of Commons, we would have called on him to deposit a record of the relevant information, even though the period of employment had ceased. However, he managed to avoid justice in the House of Commons because he had left to go to the House of Lords. Perhaps the Committee should have considered that issue, and perhaps I was

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remiss in failing to draw it to its attention, but I am sure that the Government will wish to consider the matter when they conduct their general review of arrangements.

6.51 pm

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I do not often agree with him, but--as many people have said before me--I defend for ever his right to say it. That is what we are talking about this evening and I am sorry that so few hon. Members are present when we are considering an important and fundamental issue of democracy. Perhaps their absence is a measure of the trust that they have in those of us who are present to defend their rights.

I will immediately contradict myself, because we are talking about not the rights of Members of Parliament as individuals, but their rights as representatives of the electorate. In that respect, I am pleased to agree with the Leader of the House today when she said that the two key issues are freedom of speech and the right of Parliament to conduct its own affairs. We can all agree with that.

It has been an education to hear the wealth of wisdom and experience from right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken today, many of whom have taken part in the thorough determinations of the Committee. I am glad that we all agree that the report is a good basis for future action. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) set out the position of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends with his usual eloquence and clarity. I am sure that the House will agree with his point that this debate is essential to democracy, and that his statement that it is important to build on what is tried and tested will prove to be correct.

I also share the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend about the development of judicial review and the effect of the judgment in Pepper v. Hart. Some of my hon. Friends have suggested that that was a bad judgment and other hon. Members have suggested that it was a good judgment. However, we are all agreed that it was an important judgment in taking forward the relationship between the workings of Parliament, the judiciary, the court system and Ministers and Back Benchers. The case certainly deserves consideration. It might well be a good thing to encourage Ministers to be more careful and more accurate in their answers in Standing Committees that are considering Bills.

One concern that has emerged from today's debate is the potential conflict between Parliament and the courts. We were privileged--in the ordinary sense--to have the benefit of the experience and wisdom of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). I understand his point about the importance of penalties, but I do not understand the suggestion that a certain sum might have more value to Labour Members than to Conservative Members. As far as I am aware, all Members of Parliament who do not hold ministerial office have the same salary. Deprivation of a certain sum would have the same effect on everyone, in or out of Parliament.

Mr. Alan Williams: It was the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) who said that a

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certain sum would be worth different amounts to different Members of Parliament. It was not my observation: I merely responded to it.

Mrs. Laing: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for elucidating that point. Perhaps I would agree with it if I won the lottery tonight and was, therefore, less concerned about how far my parliamentary salary would go next month.

I was pleased to hear the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), who, as usual, brought wisdom and experience to our debate. I wholeheartedly agree with him about the vital and fundamental importance of freedom of speech. It might be our right now as parliamentarians, but it is our right only because it has been fought for over centuries on our behalf. Therefore, it is our duty to protect it. I hesitate to say this, because I have never found myself in disagreement with my right hon. Friend before and I am happy to take his advice on many matters, but I cannot quite agree with him on his proposal that the sub judice rule should be more flexible. That is another issue that calls into question the potential conflict between Parliament and the courts.

I was also interested to hear what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon had to say about privilege at press conferences that happened to take place under the roof of this building. I disagree with my right hon. Friend on that point. People at press conferences in this building should not be subject to privilege in the same way as those who participate in proceedings in this Chamber, and other proceedings in Committees that are reported to this Chamber. That issue highlights another point of great importance that my right hon. Friend did not mention as such. When important matters are being announced, they should not be announced to press conferences in other Rooms in this building. Ministers should be questioned and held to account not by journalists in press conferences in front of television cameras, but by the representatives of the electors here in this Chamber. This is where matters Ministers should bring matters to the attention of the House or of the public. It is almost as important as freedom of speech itself that hon. Members should be able to question Ministers and hold them to account here in the Chamber.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon made a fourth good point on the same theme. Would the supposed bravado of journalists, to which some Labour Members referred, be so evident if they were to be brought to the Bar of the House to answer questions?

Mr. Campbell-Savours: They would love it.

Mrs. Laing: The hon. Member for Workington says that they would love it, but, although they might want to feed off the publicity, would they love it in fact? My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon distinguished between journalists and editors, and newspaper proprietors. If proprietors or editors wanted to publish a leaked report, it is possible that the threat of being brought before the Bar of the House would deter them. They are

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used to saying, "Publish and be damned", but I wonder how they would feel about being held to account themselves.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: The villain of the piece is not the journalist, but the Member of Parliament who leaks the document, and that is who should be held to account. The House has never been prepared to consider the possibility that leak inquiries should be carried out on oath. That is how we should tackle the leaking of documents. We should not penalise the people in the Press Gallery. There is no one there now, as is usual with the great and important occasions in this House, but that is another matter. We must avoid conflict with the press at all costs. Journalists are totally free.

Mrs. Laing: Once again, I find myself in disagreement with the hon. Gentleman. If someone takes the responsibility of using a document--or any other item--that he or she has procured by false means, that person must take the risk of being held to account. The hon. Gentleman and I should perhaps leave this dispute to another day, but I agree with him about the importance of defending the freedom of the press.

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