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(a) any expenditure incurred by a Minister of the Crown under the Act; and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.

The money resolution concerns the private Member's Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). On Second Reading, the Government indicated that they were content for the Bill to proceed into Committee and that was agreed by the House. As I outlined on Second Reading, the Government have great sympathy with the aims and objectives of the Bill and again I pay tribute to him for his choice of subject. I assure the House that, subject to suitable amendment, the Government are happy to allow it to proceed—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who is all too willing to cavil before he has sight of the detail, would be well advised to hold his peace.

The Bill's primary purpose is to establish a mechanism for the designation of marine sites of special scientific interest. As drafted, the Bill places obligations on the Government and the statutory conservation agencies—English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales—to identify, designate and take account of such marine sites when authorising activities. That will have expenditure implications for the Treasury purse and therefore a money resolution is required.

The main cost of the Bill will be placed on the statutory conservation agencies, because they will be responsible for identifying, managing and monitoring nationally important marine sites. Estimates indicate that the cost per site of establishing selection criteria, surveying, notification, consultation, drawing up a management scheme and monitoring will be in the region of £200,000. Of course, until criteria for site selection are devised, it is impossible to judge how many sites will be selected, but it is currently estimated that the total initial cost will be some £8 million over 10 years. Further costs will arise for those statutory authorities that are responsible for controlling and regulating activities in the marine environment. I commend the resolution to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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Matters Sub Judice

2.21 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): I beg to move,

The motion stems from the report in the previous Parliament of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, one of whose members, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), is in his place. The Joint Committee was chaired by Lord Nicholls and was set up to review parliamentary privilege and to make recommendations. Parliamentary privilege is important, and should be used well. I am grateful to all those, both in this House and the other place, who served on the Joint Committee, and the many distinguished witnesses who assisted in its work.

The Joint Committee addressed free speech in Parliament as part of its inquiry. It noted that freedom of speech

I am sure that we all agree with that. Members may wish to note that the Joint Committee recommended that there should be no action to limit parliamentary freedom of speech in respect of court injunctions, or in respect of the Official Secrets Acts. Those rights remain absolute, and the good sense of Members of Parliament will continue as the best guard against their misuse.

15 Nov 2001 : Column 1013

The Joint Committee also looked at the sub judice rule and recommended that the sub judice resolutions of both Houses of Parliament should be brought up to date, and into line with one another. The House of Lords has already implemented the Joint Committee's recommendation and I now invite this House to do the same. I stress that the new motion does not significantly alter the rules on sub judice. Before I turn to the motion itself, it might be helpful if I remind the House of the reason for the sub judice rule.

A fundamental feature of our constitution is that Parliament and the courts each keep to their appropriate functions. It is for Parliament to make the law; it is for the courts to interpret it. Article 9 of the Bill of Rights provides

Rightly, we have absolute privilege for anything that we say in Parliament. The courts cannot interfere with what we say or do in the course of proceedings in Parliament.

That absolute privilege must not be abused, and the sub judice rule is a means to prevent abuse. As the Joint Committee said,

The rule is not absolute. As the Joint Committee said, it tries

The sub judice rule is necessary not only to preserve proper relations between courts and Parliament, but to ensure that trials are not prejudiced by parliamentary comment. I acknowledge that it can be frustrating for Members when the sub judice rule restricts comment in this House more stringently than comment in the media, but that is unavoidable. Media comment is constrained by the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and if such comment oversteps the mark, legal action can be taken.

Article 9 of the Bill of Rights gives us absolute protection in this House, and that should make us cautious about what we say in this place. Moreover, as the Joint Committee said,

However, we should not limit parliamentary debate more than necessary, and there are three important provisions in the motion that stop the sub judice rule doing so.

The first is that the application of the rule is

As the Joint Committee said,

Successive occupants of the Chair have had to grapple with the application of the rules in often difficult and delicate circumstances, and have demonstrated the importance of having a rule that does not seek to

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anticipate every situation that may arise but leaves considerable discretion to the Chair. This new rule would, of course, preserve that discretion.

Secondly, the House remains free to legislate on any matter. When it appears that the law needs changing, the sub judice rule does not prevent us from making changes even as cases go through the courts.

Thirdly, the rule does not apply to cases in which a ministerial decision is in question in the courts—that is, where a decision is being judicially reviewed. In fact, the new sub judice rule will relax the practice of the Commons on this matter and bring us into line with the more permissive rule that has applied in the Lords.

The existing rules refer to decisions that

The new proposal has no such restrictions, and that must be right. The purpose of the sub judice rule is to protect the courts from parliamentary interference; it is not to provide Ministers with a convenient protection against questioning in the House. I commend this substantive alteration to the House.

The other alterations to the sub judice rules recommended by the Joint Committee are technical rather than substantive. First, it cannot be right to have the rules contained in two resolutions, rather than one, or to have different rules in one House of Parliament from those that apply in the other. That is rectified by the proposal before the House.

Secondly, although it is accepted that the sub judice rule applies to Select Committees, in the past that has not been clearly stated. It will now be explicit that the application is also to the Committees of the House.

Thirdly, changes to court practice mean that many of the references to specific courts in the existing rules are out of date, and need to be changed. The redrafted rules do that.

I hope that the House will agree to follow the Lords and adopt this updated and comprehensive sub judice rule.

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