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Mr. Bercow: Would my hon. Friend allow me to intervene?

Mrs. Laing: No, I must disappoint my hon. Friend. It really is time that I concluded. It is a question of balance

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and, in commending this report, we are relinquishing some of the freedoms that were granted by the Bill of Rights many centuries ago.

Sir Nicholas Lyell rose--

Mrs. Laing: I cannot give way even to my right hon. and learned Friend.

We are gaining a balanced privilege that is more relevant to the present day. There will be few prosecutions for bribery and other insidious offences through the courts. As the report says, the occasions when a court will be called upon to question a parliamentary proceeding will be rare. Therefore, I conclude that it is a question of balance and that the report should be commended.

Although this is an Adjournment debate, it is also a take-note debate and I hope that Parliament as a whole will have the opportunity to reflect on the many valuable points raised today.

7.21 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) has wound up the debate so comprehensively that there is little left for me to add. I noticed that she received a great deal of advice during her speech. In fact, I thought at one stage that she was going to talk about grammar schools in Boston and Skegness--but I have a feeling that the House may have missed the opportunity to discuss that subject tonight.

Like other hon. Members, I thank Lord Nicholls and the Joint Committee for their hard work. The report is extremely well written and easy to understand and I know that it has been well received, not only in this place but across the Commonwealth.

I was struck by Committee members' references to creative tension. Some Committee members were pressed men--such as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) and, I suspect, my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams)--and others, such as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), volunteered to serve. The subject clearly suited the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who made an important contribution to the debate.

It was clear from the speeches of those hon. Members who served on the Committee that they believe that the work is valuable. They are excited about this rather dry subject and their thinking has developed. Their enthusiasm spread to other hon. Members during the debate. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire said that the report has not received much attention, but I have a feeling--I will put it no stronger than that--that the report will develop a head of steam. This is the beginning of a very important debate.

The Committee report addresses Parliament, and Parliament must consider the issues and decide how to proceed. This debate has provided an important opportunity to listen to different views, of which many have been expressed. Some of my hon. Friends sought to extend the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was keen to add things to the Committee report, and we have noted his comments.

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In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made it clear that the Government generally support the report. She put down only two markers on matters about which she required some advice. She flagged first the issue of relinquishing the power to imprison and introducing a fine instead. She asked candidly for different views on the subject, and that is what she got--there was no consensus in the House. We must take stock of the discussion and decide how to proceed.

There was also some argument about breaches and the early publication of Select Committee reports. We all accept that the person who leaks a report is liable to severe punishment, but I am not as convinced as some hon. Members that dragging journalists and even proprietors to the Bar of the House will have much value. I think that it will tend to pour petrol on the fire rather than extinguish it. Nevertheless, we sought views about this issue at the beginning of the debate and we must reflect upon the comments that have been made.

Mr. Bercow: I note the tender mercy that the Minister displays towards the journalistic profession--a tendency with which many hon. Members on both sides of the House would concur. Will he comment specifically on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing)? She said that Ministers suspected of leaking Government or other documents should be obliged to respond to questioning and to do so under oath. If Ministers are not guilty, they will have nothing to fear from such investigations.

Mr. Tipping: If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself for 24 hours, he will receive the benefit of the advice that the Prime Minister intends to issue to Ministers. This is a trailer of coming attractions--it is a leak. The best is yet to come, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to watch the screen tomorrow.

Mr. Bercow rose--

Mr. Tipping: I must make some progress.

There has been much discussion of Pepper v. Hart, but no one mentioned judicial review except in passing. I believe that it is more corruptive and pervasive than the Pepper v. Hart judgment and I believe that we should reflect carefully upon the whole matter of judicial review. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who has much experience in this area, asked whether Pepper v. Hart had changed the behaviour of Ministers in Committee. It is a question of balance: the Minister responding to questions must try to be open while providing correct and factual answers. It is important to strike the right balance.

Mrs. Laing: I agree with the Minister's comments about judicial review. As a consequence of judicial review, the judiciary is becoming more powerful and getting involved in legislating. Therefore, does the Minister agree that the judiciary should be subject to scrutiny before appointment?

Mr. Tipping: We can look at organisation in different ways. The current mood of the House is that Select

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Committees, for example, should have a greater say in judicial appointments, and the matter deserves careful consideration over a long period. If the hon. Lady is seeking a personal opinion, I believe that we should have that debate; there is a lot to be said for reviewing our procedures. That is what we are doing today.

To return to Pepper v. Hart, we must recognise that Government lawyers, more than anyone else, like and rely on that judgment. Therefore, the Government have no intention of changing that convention, whatever the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) might think. He did not like something so he wanted to turn back the clock. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne referred to turning the clock backwards or forwards in relation to the internet. He has conducted a long and strong campaign to make Select Committee proceedings available on the internet the following day and he is clearly making progress with Ministers' evidence. I believe that technology will drive change--it is sometimes irresistible. As we move through the information age, we will have to change our practices.

Other Members, including the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) and the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), referred to the difficulties that arise. These are complex matters. There is an understanding in the Chamber that we need clarity and certainty. People often tell me that they do not mind what rules there are, provided that they know for certain what they are. Those Members who talked about the need for clarity, certainty and transparency--for a clear and rational understanding that is not driven by political considerations--made some of the most important points of the debate.

It is essential to discuss the way forward. In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made it clear that there was a general welcome for the proposals--the vast majority of the 39 proposals are acceptable. There are problems with some of them, but, with thought and discussion, those problems can be resolved. After the debate in this House, our colleagues in the House of Lords will want a similar debate. The point was made that these matters also affect that House. It will not be long before their lordships also discuss the report, although that is a matter for them.

Throughout the debate, reference has been made to the Law Commission's draft report on corruption. There is clearly a desire among hon. Members that it should not be kicked into the long grass, as one hon. Member put it. I assure hon. Members that that is not the case. The Home Office is actively working on the draft Bill, but it is still holding consultations. At this time of the parliamentary year, it would be most unwise--especially with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House sitting beside me--for me to give any indication of when legislation will be introduced. However, the matter has certainly not been put on the back burner.

Mr. Tyler: As the Leader of the House is sitting on the Treasury Bench, will the Minister tell us whether such a Bill might be a candidate for the pre-scrutiny review that we found so useful in a number of other non-contentious cases?

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