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Privileges

Volume 443: debated on Thursday 30 October 1947

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Committee of Privileges do consist of Ten Members:
That Mr. Attorney-General, Captain Crook-shank, Mr. Clement Davies, Mr. Edward Davies, Mr. Grenfell, Mr. Neil Maclean, Mr. Herbert Morrison, Mr. James Reid, Mr. Thomas Reid and Earl Winterton be Members of the Committee:
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records:
That Five be the quorum."—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

11.42 p.m.

The hour is late, but this Motion is one which ought not to pass through this House of Commons without Debate. I shall challenge the proposed constitution of the Committee of Privileges on four grounds. The first ground is that the constitution proposed is a party composition, that is to say, that the Committee is composed on a proportional representation basis according to the strength of the parties of this House. The second point upon which I wish to challenge the proposed constitution of the Committee is that we have departed in its composition from the old conception of what the Committee of Privileges ought to be. The third ground upon which I wish to challenge—

The hon. Member is entitled on this Motion to challenge the proposed composition of the Committee Member by Member. He is not entitled to deal with the Motion as a whole.

That is exactly what I want to do. I want to challenge, for example, the presence upon this Committee of Members who entered this House only at the last Election, of whom there are two mentioned on the Order Paper. The old conception of the Committee of Privileges was that it should consist of long-established Members with a long experience of the traditions and practices of this House. I affirm that to place on the Committee Members who entered the House of Commons for the first time in 1945 is a very serious dereliction of our past practice in this respect. That is a criticism of two Members of the Committee. I am not criticising them in their personal capacity. I am criticising their equipment, their knowledge and their experience to sit upon a committee of this kind.

I want to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would equally criticise a relatively new Member who came into the House at the last Election and who had been promoted to the still greater dignity of the post of Cabinet Minister.

All that is required, if it is required, for promotion to Cabinet rank is ability. What we are considering here is experience only of the traditions of this House, which can only be acquired by experience. Therefore, I utterly reject the superficial and slick analogy sought to be drawn by the hon. Member opposite. I next wish to criticise the absence from this Committee of Members who claim they ought to serve on the Committee.

The last time this was discussed, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was allowed to criticise, as I think perfectly rightly, the absence from the Committee of Privileges of all sorts of persons who, in his view, ought to serve on it.

I am afraid the hon. Member is only entitled to object to the inclusion of any of the hon. Members whose names I have read and as to whom I have not yet collected the voices.

I proceed to ask why the Attorney-General should be on this Comimittee, and I attack the idea that the Attorney-General should be on this Committee, on the ground that he is a Member of the Committee to whom in confidence the Committee as a whole turns for advice, and I say that anyone who looks to the Attorney-General for legal advice is relying upon a broken reed, for in all our history I doubt whether we have had such an injudicial Attorney-General and, if I may say so, a more injudicious Attorney-General than we have at the present time. If one reads the Report of the Committee of Privileges during this Parliament, one finds that the Attorney-General suffers from some confusion of geographical location as between Nuremburg and London and between his personality and that of Torquemada.

These are serious charges to bring—that this Attorney-General ought not to be entrusted with any kind of judicial capacity whatever. For in this Committee he acts, not as a member of a judicial body, but as a prosecuting counsel, and anyone who has taken the trouble to read the reports of the proceedings of the Committee of Privileges in this Parliament must have received an extremely unhappy and unfavourable impression of the attitudes and predilections of our present Attorney-General.

I say that the Government should withdraw this Motion and endeavour to bring to us a list of names which would restore the Committee of Privileges to the position that it held in the past. Above all things, the Committee of Privileges ought not to be a party Committee. In the names selected here, we have an automatic majority of one party in this House. I beg leave to remind the House that there was a time when we had to take away from the Committee of Privileges one of the functions that it used to discharge—the function of checking upon Election petitions—and we had to take it away because we found it impossible to get a judicial and non-party judgment from it. We had to entrust that function to a High Court Judge, and I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that if Privilege is to be preserved for this country, we shall have to take away the rest of the functions of the Committee of Privileges and vest them in High Court Judges, too.

If a Suitable occasion arises I will move to the effect that the remaining functions of the Committee of Privileges be taken away from it and be vested in an impartial and judicial form under a High Court Judge. I cannot do that tonight, because it would be out of Order, and therefore, I will say no more about it but will do so in the time when it becomes necessary to move in that sense. I object to the proposed constitution of the Committee of Privileges as proposed in this Motion and I stress my complete and utter want of confidence in it. Question put, and agreed to.