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Question Of Privilege

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 12 March 1975

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I now have to rule upon the complaint of breach of privilege raised yesterday by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack)—

" namely, the action of certain public servants and those inciting them to frustrate the work of Parliament."— [Official Report, 11th March 1975 ; Vol. 888, c. 284.]
I wish to make as clear as I can to the House my function, as I see it, in a matter such as this.

My duty is to decide whether in my judgment the facts alleged fall sufficiently clearly within an area in which a breach of privilege or a contempt of the House has been found by the House on a previous occasion to have been committed, or whether they fall sufficiently clearly within an area in which a possible breach of privilege or contempt should be considered, so that I should allow a motion relating to the complaint to have precedence.

As the House knows, I dislike the term "prima facie case ", because I think that that implies a judgment on the merits of the case.

If I decide in the negative, that is not necessarily the end of the matter. The House could come to a decision on the point on a motion moved subsequently after notice.

In the present instance I know of no precedent for the House having reached a decision upon, or indeed even having formally considered, a similar case.

There has also been of recent years a reluctance to extend the limits of contempt.

Accordingly, although important issues are involved affecting the efficiency and convenience of the House, which need careful consideration at some stage, and perhaps not only by the House, I have come to the conclusion that I should not allow a motion relating to the hon. Member's complaint to have precedence over the Orders of the Day.