Mr Cash: I realise that I asked a much broader question than was intended for the debate, so I do not ask the Deputy Leader of the House to go into any detail, but in general does he take on board my point about the hierarchy of laws and the necessity to ensure where the final jurisdiction lies? The issue has come up in various forms in exchanges on the draft parliamentary privilege legislation and its proposals. The Supreme Court and other courts in the European dimension are claiming greater jurisdiction than previously over what we do, indirectly and, sometimes, more directly. That is an innovation, which was certainly not around five years ago. I ask the hon. Gentleman to do no more than

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take into account the fact that these points are not just the emanations of those who are concerned obsessively about such matters; they need to be taken very seriously because the process is on the march.

Mr Heath: I was going to come to the hon. Gentleman’s points at the conclusion of my other remarks, but I will answer them now.

I am loth to usurp the authority of the Lord Chancellor, which I suspect would be lèse majesté on the part of a junior Minister. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to second-guess the Lord Chancellor’s views, in particular as he had the opportunity recently to set out some concerns in a Committee, as the hon. Gentleman said.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government are setting up a commission to look at the case for a UK Bill of Rights. He knows that the announcement has been made and that that will happen. He knows what is in the coalition agreement in respect of the issue, and I do not need to remind him of that. He also knows, because I heard him recently ask the question of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, that the Government strongly support reform of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. There is a package of considerations and I will not pre-empt any conclusions, but I hear what the hon. Member for Stone has said. I am sure that other colleagues in the Government will have heard his comments as well. It is probably safest if I leave it at that. He understands that there is a limit to how far I can expand on the subject.

Returning to a perhaps slightly safer area for which I do have some responsibility, the Government intend to bring forward a draft parliamentary privilege Bill. As we have heard this afternoon, it is a complex subject. We have the report from some years ago to which the hon. Member for Warrington North referred. We need to revisit it, to ensure that it meets all our present circumstances, but we hope that we will soon be able to provide a draft Bill on which every hon. Member will have the opportunity to comment. In particular, I hope that Members involved in this afternoon’s debate will make their views well known as part of the consultative process, because they will have the opportunity to shape the content of the Bill.

I was intrigued by the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) that we should do away with “privilege” altogether and call it something else. I make no commitment that that will form part of the Bill, but “privilege” is sometimes misinterpreted, deliberately or purely by ignorance, and assumed to mean that we somehow place our interests, and ourselves, above those

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of other people, rather than what it does mean, which is that it enables us to do our job on behalf of the people we represent.

Such interpretations were perhaps exaggerated by the recent court cases involving former Members of the House. The proposition before the court was that parliamentary privilege somehow prevented them from facing due criminal proceedings in the courts. Of course, privilege did not do that; we said so at the time and I am pleased that the courts held it to be the case. However, that message simply must go out: parliamentary privilege is not about privileges for Members, it is about privilege for our constituents to have a Member of Parliament who can stand up and speak without fear or favour on their behalf in the House, and to do so on whatever terms that Member feels fit, and without the threat of court action or the actions of the Executive preventing them from acting in the fullest capacity as a Member of Parliament. We intend to produce the draft Bill by the end of this Session, in spring 2012. That will provide us with a further opportunity for these matters to be discussed.

I am grateful to you, Mr Bone, for chairing this sitting and to the Backbench Business Committee for providing us with the opportunity to debate the subject. I am grateful too to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley for bringing forward matters of considerable importance, which have now been given an airing in the House.

Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair): With the leave of the House, I call the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley.

5.10 pm

John Hemming: I thank everyone who attended this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it. I also thank you, Mr Bone, for chairing it so ably.

The debate can be summed up in a few words. Parliament needs to know about grievances and to be able to take action. We need to take action to protect our constituents. The accountability of the courts rests on people knowing what is going on, even if anonymously. The difficulty with the operation of the Official Solicitor’s office is that people do not know what is going on. There is no question but that reform is needed in that area. However, the points have been reasonable and we have had a good debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) for working with me on the debate. On that point, I shall end.

Question put and agreed to.

5.11 pm

Sitting adjourned.