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Privileges (Powers Of Committee)

Volume 443: debated on Thursday 30 October 1947

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11.49 p.m.

I beg to move,

"That when a matter of complaint of breach of privilege is referred to a Committee, such Committee has, and always has had, power to inquire not only into the matter of the particular complaint, but also into facts surrounding and reasonably connected with the matter of the particular complaint, and-into the principles of the law and custom of privilege that are concerned."
I do not think this need detain the House more than a minute or two. There can be only two possible objections to this Motion. One could be on the matter of form. I have done my best to consult those who might be interested, and this is the form which, I think, attains the most general satisfaction. I hope there will be no objection to it on the matter of form. The only other objection, I think, that could be taken is that it is so nearly an identical statement as to be meaningless, and, therefore, not worth passing. I do not think that that objection is well founded, but if anybody were tempted to take that objection, I hope he would hesitate and say to himself, "At any rate, it cannot do any harm." It is possible—but it would take some time and it is not necessary—to demonstrate that in recent Privilege cases there has been a tendency on the part of some persons concerned to hunt their hares too tight, because, I suppose, they are a little afraid of slipping on to other scents; and I think it is important to put it on record for greater caution that that is unnecessary.

11.51 p.m.

I wish to support this Motion. This Motion declares that it is within the power of the Committee of Privileges to take into account not only the issue referred to them but attendant and environing circumstances which relate to the issue immediately before them. That is the Motion. I want to support the Motion, and I want to give the House of Commons some practical reasons why the House ought to adopt it.

A little while ago I myself was an applicant to the Committee of Privileges—and the case will be remembered by Members present—with a charge that the executive committee of my union had been guilty of bringing to bear upon me "vile pressure wrongfully applied "—to quote the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). I make no complaint that the Committee of Privileges on that occasion declared that my case had not been made good; that is to say, I do not wish to reopen the issue that was then discussed and argued in this House. But I wish to draw the attention of the House of Commons—because it is of the utmost relevance to this Motion—to what happened when the Report of the Committee of Privileges came before this House.

We had a discussion on that matter, and at the end of it there was a speech by the Lord President of the Council, and in that speech, to which nobody could reply, because it was the last speech of the Debate—I make no complaint of that: somebody has to make the last speech—it was suggested by the Lord President of the Council that it was possible that the terms of the agreement between myself and my union, which had not been pronounced upon, although they were attendant circumstances—

The hon. Member is now out of Order. He really cannot go into a case that has been dealt with before. Further, any reply to this point would not be permitted.

With great respect, Sir, I am in Order in producing a specific example of—

I do not think the hon. Member is quite certain of the meaning of the words he is using. I have Ruled that it will not be in Order for the case to be discussed now.

But, Sir, you have not yet heard what I have to say. How can you Rule me out of Order before I have said it?

The hon. Member was referring to certain happenings—he: said, certain facts—which have nothing to do with the Motion under discussion.

With great respect, the Motion on the Order Paper is that the Committee of Privileges should be enabled to take into account not merely the immediate thing referred to them but attendant and environing circumstances related to the issue. I want to quote a case. With great respect, I submit that I am in Order in so doing. Subject to your Ruling I want to submit a case where a profound injustice was done because the Committee of Privileges was not allowed to take into account the environing circumstances, but only the particular issue referred to it, and that is precisely the whole point of the Motion moved by the hon. Gentleman. I want to illustrate it and I will be brief, but it is material and in Order.

In that Debate there was a speech by the Lord President of the Council which brought into doubt the validity of the agreement, which was not pronounced upon by the Committee, and he said that in his view it might be said to be contrary to public policy, and advised my union and any other to get out. Since then that matter has gone to counsel, not on my initiative, but on the initiative of my executive, and two counsel have jointly stated that that agreement was perfectly in order and not contrary to public policy.

I have allowed the hon. Member to make his point, but I cannot allow him to proceed further. He is going into details which cannot be discussed.

If the Committee of Privileges at that stage—which is now proposed in the recommendation of my hon. Friends—had been allowed to deal with that point at the time, this question would not have been raised. Whenever, after the Motion is passed, the point is put to the Committee of Privileges, it will be free to deal with any related or pertinent circumstances which it feels free to deal with. In my case Members of the Committee said that my agreement was not an issue. Under this Motion they will be able to deal with it in future, and therefore, I cordially recommend the adoption of this Motion relating to a Committee in which I have no confidence and one which will be free to range everywhere and to take everything into consideration.

I have nothing to say regarding the speech of the hon. Member. With reference to the Motion I think it is a proper thing. It is a declaratory Motion. It is rather like my earlier Motion.

I agreed to adjourn the Debate on my earlier Motion, but I would not insist on that here. Let us finish with sweetness and clarity. The hon. Member has made his case, and like the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) I advise the House to accept the Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Public Accounts

Committee of Public Accounts nominated:—Mr. Benson, Major Bruce, Mr. Cuthbert, Colonel Alan Dower, Mr. Glenvil Hall, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, Mr. Haworth, Mr. Horace Holmes, Mr. Kirby, Mr. McAdam, Sir John Mellor, Mr. Peake, Sir Frank Sanderson, Mr. Ernest Thurtle, and Mr. Wadsworth.—[ Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

Adjournment

Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

Adjourned accordingly at One Minute to Twelve o'Clock.