That the Report which, on 30th October, 1957, in the last Session of Parliament, was made from the Committee of Privileges, the Order in Council directing that the Report of the Judicial Committee on a Question of Law concerning the Parliamentary Privilege Act, 1770, be communicated to the House, with the Reasons for such Report as delivered by their Lordships (Command Paper No. 431), and the Report which, on 24th June, was made from the Committee of Privileges be now considered.—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]
§ Reports and Order in Council considered accordingly.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move,That this House doth agree with the Committees of Privileges in their Reports.In moving this Motion, which refers to the two Reports, one this Session and the other last Session, as I conceive it my duty to do, I should make it plain that there will be a free vote. Of course, I can speak only for this side of the House, but I have no reason to believe that that does not also hold on the other side of the House. Accordingly, hon. Members will be entitled to vote as they think best in interpreting and defending their ancient privileges.
Before I explain the reasons for these Reports of the Committees of Privileges, I should remind hon. Members, if only for the record, of the facts of the case with which the two Reports are concerned. I would also refer to the Report of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I shall not speak at great length, but I think it is important that hon. Members should be aware not only of the facts, but also of the issues at stake before they decide to cast their vote. If I can set them out impartially, and as clearly as possible, I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House. The facts are as follows,
On 8th February, 1957, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) wrote a letter to my my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, who represented the Minister of Power in the House of Commons, about the disposal of scrap by the London Electricity Board. On 14th February the 209 Paymaster-General replied, saying that this was a matter of day-to-day administration and, as such, the responsibility of the Board, not the Minister; but that he had arranged for his officials to bring the views of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall to the attention of the Chairman of the Board. A copy of the right hon. Gentleman's letter to the Paymaster-General was subsequently sent to Mr. Irving, the Chairman of the London Electricity Board, by direction of the Minister.
Mr. Irving then requested the right hon. Member for Vauxhall to visit him, which the right hon. Gentleman did on 18th February. Following this interview, Mr. Irving wrote to the right hon. Gentleman on 28th February, saying that in his view the statements contained in the right hon. Gentleman's letter to my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General were completely unjustified, and asking for their unqualified withdrawal. This the right hon. Member for Vauxhall refused to do. On 27th March, Messrs. Sydney Morse & Co., the solicitors to the London Electricity Board, wrote to the right hon. Gentleman asking him whether he was prepared to withdraw the statements he had made and to offer to the Board and its officers a suitable form of apology; and intimating that, if he was not prepared to withdraw and apologise, proceedings for libel against him on behalf of the Board and its purchasing officer would be instituted.
On 5th April the right hon. Member for Vauxhall brought the matter before the House and on 8th April of last year the House referred the matter to the Committee of Privileges. So much for the facts of the case.
The House will have before it the fifth Report of the Committee of Privileges, Session 1956–57, which I refer to as the first Report that we are dealing with this afternoon. In its first Report the Committee of Privileges reached three conclusions, which are set out in paragraph 20. Again, for the purpose of clarity, I will read these conclusions to the House; they are quite short:
I can dispose of that last point first. Regarding this third conclusion, as hon. Members will now be aware, the opinion of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was that the House would not be acting contrary to the 1770 Act if it treated the issue of a writ against a Member of Parliament in respect of a speech or proceeding by him in Parliament as a breach of its privileges, and we express our gratitude to their Lordships for the clarity of their judgment, a copy of which I hold in my hand.
- "(a) In writing the letter of 8th February, 1957, to the Paymaster-General of which the London Electricity Board complain, Mr. Strauss was engaged in a 'proceeding in Parliament' within the meaning of the Bill of Rights of 1688.
- (b) The London Electricity Board in threatening by the letters from themselves and their
210 Solicitors to commence proceedings for libel against Mr. Strauss for statements made by him in the course of a proceeding in Parliament are threatening to impeach or question the freedom of Mr. Strauss in a Court or Place outside Parliament, and accordingly the London Electricity Board and their Solicitors have acted in breach of the Privilege of Parliament.
- (c) The opinion of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council should be sought on the question whether the House would be acting contrary to the Parliamentary Privilege Act, 1770, if it treated the issue of a writ against a Member of Parliament in respect of a speech or proceeding by him in Parliament as a breach of its Privileges."
I ought to make plain that this decision by their Lordships, of the result of which I have just reminded the House, is governed by the important consideration that it had nothing to do with matters (a) and (b). They were simply asked their advice on this third point (c) about the Act of 1770 and they say that their conclusion is independent of the conclusions (a) and (b) which I have read to the House. I am sure that we should distinguish this matter clearly because their Lordships' finding related only to this question of the interpretation of the Act of 1770.
If I pause for a moment just to say this, I am sure that the House will be interested: whatever else we may have done in this long and difficult case, I think that we have obtained a ruling on the real meaning of the Act of 1770 and the earlier Acts. Some people say that they were not in doubt about it. But it is satisfactory to know that this ruling has been given. As their Lordships say, the reason for these Acts was that in those days, after the passage of the Bill of Rights—I now quote from page 5 of their Lordships' finding—… Members of both Houses had long notoriously abused their privileges in respect of immunity from civil actions and arrest".What happened was that the Acts bad to be passed to render Members liable 211 to the ordinary sort of proceedings of the courts for their normal private behaviour. I do not believe that anybody today will challenge any such conclusion, or would wish to be above the law in his ordinary affairs. The picturesque language of the ancient statutes, of which there are a great many and which hon. Members can read for themselves if they so like, refers also to hon. Members' "menial or other servants". These are not so numerous today with hon. Members as they were in those times. That is an issue by itself, and it has been cleared up, and I am sure that nobody is more gratified than my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.
When the Report of the Judicial Committee was laid before Parliament, this House, on 17th June, 1958, referred the matter again to the Committee of Privileges. Now, the Committee of Privileges in its Report in this Session—which, for convenience, I will refer to as the second Report—concluded as follows, in paragraph 5:Where a breach of long-recognised privilege has been committed, your Committee would recommend a suitable sanction; but in the special circumstances of this case, which is the first arising out of a letter from a Member of Parliament to a Minister which has come before the Committee of Privileges"—this was inserted because a similar problem has occurred, but not before the Committee of Privileges—and bearing in mind that no proceedings have been taken, your Committee recommend to the House that no further action be taken with regard thereto.So much for the finding of the second Report, which I am moving in addition to the first Report, which is the Report of the last Session.
Before I deal with the important constitutional points involved, I must say that, as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, I felt it my duty to give every opportunity to those advancing arguments on either side to do so fairly and openly, and so to give their opinions on the issues before us. I will take a similar part as Leader of the House on the Floor of the House.
The House will recall that the Report of the last Session was moved by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and was approved by the Committee of Privileges by eight 212 votes to one, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General dissenting. The voting is shown on page xix of this Report. Hon. Members will also observe that Mr. Elliot is no longer with us, that Captain Waterhouse is no longer a Member of the House, and that the other Members voting are still Members of the House.
I want, in a moment, to reserve the position of two members who joined the Committee of Privileges this Session, because they did not take part in this voting, and it is because it is important that their position should be reserved that I have stressed the voting on page xix. The Attorney-General, whose views we should all like to respect, will, I hope, catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and be able to put the case which he put so powerfully to the Committee of Privileges upstairs. That is a matter for him. I am moving the Report as it was voted upon on page xix.
I am moving that no action be taken in this case, as recommended in the second Report. The second Report makes clear that its recommendation that no further action be taken with regard to this particular case is arrived at on the basis of the conclusions in the first Report, that is to say, on the basis that there has been a breach of the Privilege of Parliament. I think that this basis was accepted by all Members in the case of the second Report; at any rate, it was accepted by the majority. I believe that it was accepted as a basis by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who will be able to speak clearly for himself on this matter.
I say that it was accepted as a basis, but I must make clear that the two new members of the Committee of Privileges, the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. (Sir T. Dugdale), were not members of the Committee during the last Session and, therefore, cannot be regarded as being bound by the finding. I say that on the Floor of the House as I said it upstairs, and I want to use the same language in bath places. Having established that the voting on the conclusion was as I have said, and recommended that no action be taken on this occasion, I want to discuss some of the more serious issues which we have to decide.
213 Hon. Members would be unwise if they underestimated the importance of the discussion on which we are now entering. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The ancient Privilege of the House regarding freedom of speech was summarised, or rather enshrined, in the Bill of Rights of 1689. I draw attention to a detail in the first Report of the Committee, the conclusion of which I read to the House earlier. The Report refers tothe Bill of Rights of 1688.This was, in fact, the Declaration of Rights. The validating Bill was passed in 1689. I mention this not to be pedantic, but to indicate that this privilege has statutory authority as well as being derived from ancient right.
Our privileges can be extended only by Act of Parliament. A vote or declaration or resolution of a single House of Parliament cannot by itself extend Privilege, yet, looking back over the centuries, we see it is clear that each House of Parliament has claimed and has frequently exercised the right to determine the application of its privileges to particular cases. I think that the House would be very unwise to deprive itself of that right.
I would mention, in particular, the famous, and at the time notorious, Resolution of 1837. The House passed the Resolution, which read as follows—this was just a Resolution and not a Statute—… by the law and privilege of Parliament, this House has the sole and exclusive jurisdiction to determine upon the existence and extent of its privileges and that the institution or prosecution of any action, suit or other proceeding, for the purpose of bringing them into discussion or decision before any court or tribunal elsewhere than in Parliament, is a high breach of such privilege and renders all parties concerned therein amenable to its just displeasure, and to the punishment consequent thereon.That Resolution was passed at a period of considerable excitement, at the time of Stockdale v. Hansard. The House will remember that the issues at that date were finally decided by legislation some years later. The House will also remember that lawyers came very much into the picture in those days, as they appear to be coming into it in these days. In reading the public Press one must pay attention to the lawyers as we ought to pay attention to them, both inside and outside this House, but lawyers appear to have been even more ruthless and less 214 thin-skinned then than they are now. We do not want to go back to the historic case of Stockdale v. Hansard, or to other cases referred to in their Lordships' finding, if we can help it.
The Report of the Judicial Committee, in its penultimate clause, quotes Erskine May's "Parliamentary Practice". This enables me to put into proper perspective, and in words far more apt than I could possibly choose, the relationship of the courts to Parliament, which I think it is important for hon. Members to get clearly in their minds. This is on the last page of the Order in Council and it runs as follows, quoting from Erskine May, the 16th edition, page 172:The House of Commons … claims to be the absolute and exclusive judge of its own privileges and that its judgments are not examinable by any other Court or subject to appeal.That is what the House of Commons claims.On the other hand, the courts regard the privileges of Parliament as part of the law of the land of which they are bound to take judicial notice. They consider it their duty to decide any question of privilege arising directly or indirectly in a case which falls within their jurisdiction and to decide it according to their own interpretation of the law. The decisions of the court are not accented as final by the House in matters of privilege nor the decisions of the House by the courts.Thus, as this judgment says, the old dualism remains unresolved. It is, I think, not likely to be resolved by our debate today. Whether it is or not, the reference to this dualism could be a healthy reminder that it exists. That is to say, the courts reserve the right to interpret the law of the land and the House of Commons reserves its ancient right to interpret its own privileges.
I mention this stark fact of the possibility of a conflict between the House and the courts not as a preface to any argument which seeks either to surrender any of our privileges or to enlarge them unwisely, but simply to emphasise the gravity of the issues which face hon. Members in this debate. So I say that the consequence of accepting the first Report would be that a precedent would be established for treating a letter from a Member of Parliament to a Minister as being covered by Parliamentary Privilege.
I can be countered if I am not right, but I have taken the trouble to find what 215 is the nearest approach to truth on this matter. This does not mean that every letter from a Member of Parliament to a Minister would be covered, since the House likes to work its way forward from case to case. That has been our tradition through the centuries and none of us in this House today should depart from that tradition, but though, as I say, the House likes to work from case to case, and it would not cover every letter, I wish to say to those who are to take part in the debate that this precedent would be established.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
It was decided in the 1945 Parliament that a Parliamentary Question could not be asked in this House on the day-to-day working of nationalised boards. Therefore, the only way in which an hon. Member can get any question put on the day-to-day working is surely by a letter to a Minister.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Surely the Leader of the House is not using the right words. What we have been doing, or may do, is not to establish a new precedent, but to interpret an old principle to a new situation. It is nothing more than that. We cannot extend our privileges either by precedent or in any other way.
§ Mr. Butler
The word "interpretation" appears from time to time in the careful preparation of what I have been putting before the House. If the right hon. Member prefers that to "precedent" I am willing to accept it "interpretation" would be a more literal way of expressing it. I noted that at least one or two right hon. Members opposite nodded in agreement that that was a clearer way of expressing it. Such "interpretation"—I will not use "precedent"—would go beyond the Report of 1939 in the case of the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys). The House will remember that that case had relation to the operation of the Official Secrets Act.
The first Report restates, in paragraph 9, the findings of the Committee of 1939. I should like to make it clear that those findings were endorsed by the House. Attention is drawn in paragraph 9 of the Report to the fact that the Committee of 1939 had gone further than had been 216 gone before by saying that the draft of a Parliamentary Question submitted to a Minister might be regarded as a proceeding in Parliament. This is what is said in paragraph 9, of the Report, quoting the Report of 1939:While the term 'proceedings in parliament' has never been construed by the courts, it covers both the asking of a question and the giving written notice of such question, and includes everything said or done by a member in the exercise of his functions as a member in a committee of either House, as well as everything said or done in either house in the transaction of parliamentary business.The references for this in the footnote were the then Attorney-General, now Lord Somervell, and also Sir Gilbert Campion, in giving evidence. The Committee of 1939 went further and referred to mattersso closely related to some matter pending in, or expected to be brought before, the House, that though they do not take place in the chamber or a committee room they form part of the business of the House, as, for example, where a member sends to a Minister the draft of a question he is thinking of putting down or shows it to another member with a view to obtaining advice as to the propriety of putting it down or as to the manner in which it should be framed. The Attorney-General said that, should such a case come before the courts, he could not but think that they would give a broad construction to the term 'proceeding in parliament' having regard to the great fundamental purpose which the privilege of freedom of speech served, and that he could 'see a possible construction of "proceedings" which would extend to matters outside the precincts if they were related to what is to happen in the House'.That is limited by the words:what is to happen in the House".
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
Could my right hon. Friend remind us, because I do not think he gave us it, of the exact page from which he began quoting and from which of the 1939 Reports, as there were three Reports?
§ Mr. Butler
This is quoted in the Report of the Committee of Privileges last Session on pages IV and V of the Report which we put before the House. Speaking without the book, I should say the last Report of 1939, which summarised the story.
That is the furthest extent to which the tide, so to speak, of Parliamentary Privilege had gone. That is why I mention it, because it is, so to speak, the high tide. The Report of the Committee in the last Session goes further than the 217 Report of the Select Committee in 1939. The conclusion of which I have reminded the House goes further and regards a letter from a Member of Parliament to a Minister, namely, in this particular case, a letter affecting the administration of a nationalised industry, as being covered by Parliamentary Privilege. That is the extension, or new interpretation of Privilege, found by the Committee in the last Session. I think that the reasons why the majority decided as they did in the first Report were that they thought that in considering this matter they were entitled to have regard to the facts of Parliamentary life as they exist today.
Since the Bill of Rights was passed, the complexity and difficulty of a Member's life have increased a thousandfold. For example, there were no nationalised industries at the time of the passing of the Bill of Rights. That is one of the few propositions to which, presumably, I may now obtain universal assent. In its famous protestation earlier in that century, in 1621, the Commons declared the privileges of Parliament to be the birthright and inheritance of the subject. We ought to look at what Parliamentary Privilege means. In principle, the Privilege of Parliament is designed to protect a Member's constituents, since without Privilege grievances would be harder to remedy and abuses less likely to be uncovered.
I think that all hon. Members would be ready to subscribe to that, whether they intend to vote against or to support this Motion. Privilege, in fact, exists for the citizen as much as for the Member of Parliament. I do not hesitate to say that without the privilege of freedom of speech the social and industrial legislation of this country could never have been achieved.
Let us examine the case of the nationalised industries. The Committee did so and found, as we all know, that Members are unable to put down Questions on the day-to-day administration of those industries. A Question in Parliament is fully privileged. According to the opinion of the Committee of 1939, of which I have reminded tie House, a draft Question may be regarded as privileged.
Therefore, the position which the House must consider before it decides what to do on this matter is that Members of Parliament may table Questions on the myriad subjects on which we are entitled to put 218 Questions down—to the Minister of Education on a delicate matter affecting education, or on almost any other matter under the purview of Ministers. That is absolutely privileged. The Member can say what he likes, but in a matter affecting the nationalised industries, he is not permitted to put a Question.
I think that the majority of the Committee who supported the first Report in the last Session therefore felt that a Member deserved some protection in the case of a letter written to a Minister on the subject of the administration of a nationalised industry. Otherwise—and I would ask all hon. Members, whether they vote one way or the other, to ponder this—the nationalised industries themselves are put into a position of privilege. I think that the majority of the Committee also thought that the writing of such a letter might properly be regarded, in the light of modern circumstances, as a proceeding in Parliament.
It is not for me to say whether the courts would regard such a letter as being a proceeding in Parliament under the Bill of Rights. That is not for me to interpret. I can only interpret what I believe were the motives which were behind the findings of the majority of the Committee of Privileges. Whether I have done anything else or not, I hope that I have revealed certain inconsistencies in the degree of protection afforded Members in relation to a variety of subjects, one of which is the nationalised industries, which come finally under the purview of a Minister.
Now let us look at the other side of the picture for a minute. If things are left as they are, the writing of a letter by a Member is not regarded as a proceeding in Parliament, and, as such, covered by Parliamentary Privilege. Hon. Members may well ask: what protection does a Member get if he forwards a letter, to which objection may be taken, to a Minister? Without going into the legal niceties, which are not my concern, I can only remind hon. Members that, under the ordinary law of the land, an action for libel against a Member could not succeed if the writing of such a letter was not actuated by malice, because the Member would be protected by the application of qualified privilege; that is, privilege would be accorded by the courts, provided there was no malice, and the burden of proving malice would 219 lie on the plaintiff. But it is true that the Member might be put to the inconvenience and expense of defending an action, before he was ultimately vindicated, and here I refer again to my hon. and learned Friends the lawyers.
I have no doubt about the interpretation of the statute law in regard to this matter, which has been put before me by prominent members of the legal profession, and I have the deepest respect for the accuracy of their minds, which far exceeds that of my own. What I want to make clear is this. However we decide this issue by debate, and one debate may not be enough to decide it, there is anxiety in the minds of hon. Members who are not lawyers and who are not animated by the same wisdom and experience as the legal profession itself. No lawyer I have asked about this has been able to cross his heart and say that there is no risk to an M.P. of having to appear in court.
Therefore, when hon. Members are deciding this matter, I hope that they will bear that in mind, because one cannot honestly say that a Member would be wholly protected. I have put fairly what would be the normal interpretation of the courts, and there is a letter in The Times today which confirms my own view, written by an eminent lawyer himself.
The House then has to weigh up these considerations in deciding the issue, but, before it does so, I want to refer to the existing practice about letters written by Members of Parliament to Ministers. Whether the House accepts the definition of Parliamentary Privilege in the first Report or not, I hope that hon. Members will be very careful in any case in forwarding letters to Ministers to secure, as far as possible, that they contain no insinuation which could be regarded as anything beyond factual reporting on the merits of the case. I have, unfortunately, had cases brought to my attention in which a Member's letter to a Minister had involved malice, and where citizen's rights might have been infringed.
I may be asked what the present practice is. I think that I cannot do better than refer the House to the Answers given by the right hon. Member for Woodford 220 (Sir W. Churchill), when he was Prime Minister, to the hon. Members for Stock-ton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) and West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis). They asked him whether the contents of a letter from a Member to a Minister would be divulged or conveyed to persons not in the service of the Government, and whether they would be divulged to persons and organisations outside the control of their respective Departments.
As this is still the existing practice, I will just remind the House of the Answers given by the then Prime Minister, who said this:In very many cases disclosure to persons or organisations outside the Government service is necessary to find out the facts, or to remedy the matter complained of. The matter cannot be dealt with by a general rule against disclosure. But clearly Departments must exercise great discretion as to the circumstances in which disclosure is appropriate; and a reminder is being issued to Departments in this sense.The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:If I might make a practical suggestion, hon. Members might also consider on occasion asking their correspondent, in the case of a letter on which they are contemplating an inquiry from the Government, whether he is willing that it should be disclosed to a wider circle."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March. 1954; Vol. 525, c. 211.]I thought that it was wise to remind the House of that, because it is the best manner in which hon. Members can send in their letters and get answers, and I think that it would save us a great deal of trouble.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
A further point arises here. If the Minister communicated a letter which could be considered as libellous to the party concerned, does not he himself become involved under the Act and be liable to action against him in the courts?
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Committee of Privileges gave any consideration to this point? On the assumption that the letter written by a Member to a Minister is not itself a proceeding in Parliament, if the 221 Minister sends the letter to someone from whom he requires information about it, what protection can the Minister have?
§ Mr. Butler
I think that most hon. Members of the Committee would agree that no great or detailed examination was given to the point, and that we should need to have a further opportunity of considering it.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Committee of Privileges considered whether, in the present case, the disclosure by the right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster-General of the letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) to the London Electricity Board was in accordance with normal practice or not?
§ Mr. Butler
The Committee did not make any observations on that point. I should have thought that my right hon. Friend was simply carrying out his duty, but I would rather not give any ruling on that matter. I think that he was doing his duty, according to the findings, where a matter of administration was not under the control of the House. There is no ruling which I can quote from the Committee of Privileges on that point.
Now I come to my concluding remarks. Hon. Members have now to make up their minds whether it would be wiser to support the Committee of Privileges, which, in this case, has done its best to safeguard Members of Parliament by suggesting an interpretation of Parliamentary Privilege which covers a letter from a Member to a Minister, or whether it would be better to leave things as they are and rely on the protection which will, in the absence of malice, be afforded to a Member under the ordinary law of the land, by reason of the application of qualified privilege.
Before hon. Members decide on the merits of the case they should ponder once more, deeply, on the reasons for which Parliamentary Privilege exists. It exists to protect a Member in discharging his duty to the public. It inures ultimately to the benefit of the citizen, not of Members. Common fairness and common sense therefore require that it should be extended far enough to achieve this measure of protection. If it goes beyond that point in the judgment of the 222 House, then there is real danger that the citizen may be frustrated in seeking the other means of his redress, namely, through the courts. We must remember that citizens have two opportunities, either through Parliament or through the courts, and there has to be a balance between them.
It may well be that the House cannot entirely resolve these issues tonight. It may well be that the general issue of the question of letters from Members of Parliament to Ministers will need further study and clarification. But let us, at any rate, see how far we can get in this debate tonight.
Anson, I think, sums up the whole position in "The Law and Custom of the Constitution". He wrote:The Bill of Rights is, on the face of it, a summary of constitutional rules. It is perhaps the nearest approach to a constitutional code we possess, but it does not profess to be a written constitution. It merely states the points which had from time to time been in issue between the Crown and its subjects since the reign of Edward I and on all it declares in favour of the nation against the Crown. This summary of Constitutional rule, setting at rest matters which had long been a source of difference, represents the legal result of the Revolution.We should be very careful before we disturb so fine a settlement. Equally, it is not unreasonable for hon. Members to examine the complexities of life and the various forms of revolution which have occurred since that date and to interpret their privileges as they think best.
§ Mr. Bowles
The Report deals with letters from a Member to a Minister. What about the letter of reply from the Minister to the Member? Is not that in exactly the same position as a proceeding in Parliament?
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:does not consider that Mr. Strauss' letter of the 8th February, 1957, was 'a proceeding in Parliament' and is of opinion therefore that the letters from the Chairman of the London Electricity Board and the Board's Solicitors constituted no breach of Privilege".The House is indebted to the Lord Privy Seal for the careful exposition that 223 he has made on behalf of the Committee of Privileges. He has rightly said that this is a day when we can all say what we like without let or hindrance, so that it is, indeed, a day of exceptional privilege. We must use it to the full.
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in the conclusions which he has reached, or with the Committee of Privileges. If I were the only man left in the House with that view, I should speak my mind on this subject, as I sincerely hold the view which I shall express; and it is up to other hon. Members to express their views.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the House is dealing with this case and this case only, and there is a great deal to be said for proceeding in that way rather than trying to lay down laws for all time in a wide and comprehensive sense. We have, therefore, to deal with this case. The right hon. Gentleman, however, went somewhat wider than the circumstances of the case before the House. It will be necessary for me, too, to refer to some of the events and circumstances which led up to the matter being referred to the Committee of Privileges, but I will do so briefly. I do not wish to handle the record in the way of trying to encourage the House to put my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) on trial, because that is not the point. The point is a high question of principle and practice in our Parliament.
It is necessary, I think, to recapitulate the happenings with slightly more information than the Leader of the House gave. The argument here began not as between a constituent of my right hon. Friend and the Government; it began in an argument between a trade association—and some people think that is something in the nature of a ring, but I am not sure—the National Association of Non-Ferrous Scrap Metal Merchants, and the London Electricity Board. In writing to the Minister my right hon. Friend said that he had some "indirect personal" interest in the matter. That was undoubtedly true.
I draw the attention of the House to a fact to which the Lord Privy Seal did not draw attention. In his letter to the Paymaster-General of 8th February, 1957, my right hon. Friend said that in 224 his judgment the behaviour of the Board was "a scandal", that its conduct was open to "strong suspicion" and that there had beenday to day maladministration" …. "in the nature of a public scandal.I am bound to say that if I had written the letter myself I should not have employed that language if I had wanted to keep out of trouble. It was not necessary. My right hon. Friend could have put his case without employing language of that sort.
Now we are asked to say, in the Report which the Lord Privy Seal has moved, that that is proper language for a Member of Parliament to employ. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] With great respect, we are. We are asked to approve the Report, which condones my right hon. Friend's letter. I say that when one is writing a letter of that sort to a Minister it is well to be circumspect in the language that one is employing, otherwise it can be the case that an hon. Member can write to a Minister saying almost anything he likes about a person outside and that person outside has no legal remedy.
I therefore draw attention to the language, which I think is important. The Report of the Committee condones it and lays it down as a precedent which may be followed.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Does my right hon. Friend say that because we assert that every speech made in the House is privileged, we thereby condone and approve of the language used?
§ Mr. Morrison
Not at all. Speeches in the House can be answered. They are not matters where the privacy of the post is used and where the person accused does not necessarily know what was said. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Despite all this noise, which I welcome—because a little life is all to the good—if we adopt this Report we are saying that this language from a Member to a Minister is legitimate in all the circumstances, that it can be used and that it will bring Parliamentary Privilege to protect it. That, surely, is the meaning of the Report. It cannot have any other meaning. I think that that is wrong and that the Committee ought to have concerned itself about it.
This was a controversy between a trade association of quite able gentlemen and 225 the London Electricity Board; and I express no view on the merits of the controversy for the simple reason that I do not know enough about it. There followed an interview with the Chairman of the Board. My right hon. Friend was accompanied by Mr. Elton and Mr. Garnham, not Members of Parliament, not his constituents, but members of the trade interested. He was quite entitled to take them to see the Chairman of the Board, but I should not have called that a Parliamentary occasion. The Chairman of the Board asked for withdrawal, as he was entitled to do if he thought that withdrawal was justified and right. My right hon. Friend was entitled to say that he did not think it was justified. That was said by the Chairman of the Board in a letter of 28th February.
My right hon. Friend said that he was confirmed in his original views, which original views, of course, had been stated in his letter to the Paymaster-General, from which I have quoted. The Chairman then asked for withdrawal, giving the usual polite intimation that if withdrawal was not forthcoming other steps might be taken. The Board's solicitor offered settlement on the basis of apology and withdrawal, and inquired what solicitors would, in the event of that being withheld, accept service on behalf of my right hon. Friend.
On 2nd April my right hon. Friend's solicitors replied, saying that my right hon. Friend had expressed his honest opinion, but that, after discussion with the Chairman, he was… quite satisfied that the practice of which he complained was and is in no way attributable to any improper conduct on the part of the Board or on any of its officials.The letter also stated that my right hon. Friend was expressing the view of the trade as put to him. I must say that that was not within the terms, as I recall them, of the first letter that my right hon. Friend sent to the Paymaster-General. His solicitors added:… we are prepared to accept service of any proceedings you may be instructed to begin.The Board's solicitors replied, regretting the situation that had arisen, and intimating that proceedings would be instituted in the following week. However, they were not instituted, because Privilege was claimed in the House of Commons on 8th April. After all this process had gone 226 by, and after both solicitors had accepted the principle of service of proceedings, nevertheless Privilege was claimed on 8th April, and that brought the matter to an end. It brought it to an end because, apparently, the Board could not do anything else, nor, apparently, could solicitors or barristers could have done anything else.
I draw the attention of the House to the fact that if the trade association had used as the channel for its communication, not a Member of Parliament—
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I hope to reply to several of my right hon. Friend's points later but, meanwhile, I am sure that he does not want to mislead the House. I was not used as a channel of communication. I was never approached by the trade association, or by any organised body. I took this up on my own initiative, on personal information given to me by people in whom I had absolute confidence.
§ Mr. Morrison
I cannot see that there is all that difference. My right hon. Friend said that in his first letter, but in a later letter he said that he was expressing not so much his own views as those of members of the trade, and when he went to see the Chairman of the Board, he was accompanied by two leaders of the trade. Therefore, I de not think that he needs to be too sensitive about that point, because the facts are on record—
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)
It is not for me to defend the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), but to be absolutely fair about the picture that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) draws, it should be pointed out, and stressed, that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall intervened only after the trade association had not got any satisfaction whatsoever from the Board.
§ Mr. Morrison
I entirely agree with what the hon. Member has said, and I think that it rather confirms my argument.
I want to go back to the point with which I was dealing. I do not mind whether we use the term "channel of communication", "medium of complaint", or what the House will. The fact is that if the complainant to the 227 Minister had used this language and had not been a Member of Parliament, there would, presumably, have been a prima facie case for legal action, and the House of Commons would not have stepped in to prevent that happening.
I believe in the democracy of our country. I believe in the equality of rights of the citizen. I think that this House is in danger—and I shall have to say this again—of elevating the rights of its own Members, in communications going outside the House, markedly above the rights of the citizens outside, and that we are in danger of a tendency that could be injurious to the liberty and equality of the British people.
I am left now in doubt after the speech we have heard from the Leader of the House, but I would have thought that if we apply the doctrine that the chairman of a public corporation is to be prevented from taking legal action, and that if solicitor and barrister insist on taking that legal action they will be open to punishment, one could then ask, "Why only in the case of the public corporation?"
Why have public authorities to be picked out for this treatment when private industries, and persons, are not put in that position? After all, the chairman of a public corporation is one of God's children just as much as is the chairman of a private company—and, indeed, just as much as is a Member of Parliament, if I do not put myself in danger of committing a breach of Privilege by so saying.
This business is full of illogic. Therefore, I say that if that doctrine is to be applied I do not see how we can stop it being applied to a private company or private concern or, indeed, to a private individual. An hon. Member has just commented, "Who wants to?" but if we are to have the application of this doctrine, whereby a Member of Parliament can in a letter to a Minister, say what he likes about any private individual or any private company, then, in that case—and I agree that it is the logical interpretation—we are in danger of extending the field of possible abuse and of not being fair to the individual—
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is it not a fact that this House has a very special responsibility for the conduct of all affairs that 228 are under the charge of the Minister? A Minister is responsible for the public industries, but he is not responsible for the private industries, and if a Member has anything brought to his notice that seems to reflect on the conduct of anything that is under the charge of a Minister he is entitled to bring it to the attention of the Minister.
§ Mr. Morrison
On my right hon. Friend's first point, I do not agree. Ministers have a number of responsibilities for a number of private industries. It is well known that they can take steps in relation to private industries. Indeed, the Government can, as my right hon. Friend will recall, bring in legislation for the nationalisation of private industries if they feel sufficiently strongly that those private industries are not doing their job well. That, therefore, is not an answer.
I come now to the point about the Parliamentary Question. It is restricted in the case of the nationalised industries although, as I have pointed out before, not nearly so restricted as many hon. Members think. That was revealed at the first meeting of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. However, that there are restrictions, I agree. Questions on the day-to-day management of those industries are not allowed because of the view, which was accepted on both sides of the House, that we cannot have politicians managing the industries, or taking an undue part in their day-to-day management.
It is a controversial matter, but that was the reason given at the time, and it has been upheld. That does not mean that Members of Parliament cannot function in this House in relation to nationalised industries, whether it is a matter of day-to-day management or not. There are debates on the Adjournment. There are the not less than three debates that I, as Leader of the House, and on behalf of the Labour Government provided, on the annual reports of the public corporations.
There is the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries. There is the debate on the Royal Speech from the Throne. There are other occasions upon which these matters can be discussed. In any case, if a right hon. or hon. Member wishes to write a letter to a Minister, surely it is not beyond his capacity to 229 write it and put his point without engaging in language which, clearly, gives possible cause of action for libel. The case can be put perfectly well without engaging in language which is open to possible subsequent legal action.
I come now to the proceedings of the Committee of Privileges. I must say that I think that the Committee was open to criticism for the way it went about its task. The argument arose on the Floor of the House from something said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall. I should have thought that the Committee of Privileges would ask to see him, to obtain all the information it could from my right hon. Friend's point of view, and in justice to him, and I am sure that he would have been quite willing to attend. Moreover, the other party, the London Electricity Board, I should have thought, had a right to be heard and have its side of the case considered by the Committee but the Electricity Board has never been heard by the Committee to this day.
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) was heard on Tuesday, 4th June, 1957. The London Electricity Board was not.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is quite right. It was a very brief hearing on a limited point. I am sorry to have overlooked it, though it was not much to overlook, if I remember aright. I should have thought that the Committee would have begun by seeing my right hon. Friend and the London Electricity Board. I feel that the London Electricity Board and, indeed, my right hon. Friend, has been treated unjustly by not being properly called before the Committee to give evidence.
Apart from those points, the most extraordinary thing about the proceedings of the Committee is, perhaps, that the Clerk of the House was called to give evidence, which he gave in accordance with what he thought right and proper—
§ Mr. Morrison
My right hon. Friend says, "Very fine evidence, too". I happen to believe that, when I am expressing an opinion about Officers of 230 the House, it is better not to talk about the merits of their arguments or their evidence one way or another. If my right hon. Friend says, "Very fine evidence", I might be tempted to say something which might be thought improper. I think it right that the Clerks are best left out of our controversies, and I think that that it what they themselves would wish.
It is perfectly proper for the Clerk of the House to be called in and for him to give evidence and put in a memorandum. But it was not until the third day of his examination, after his evidence had covered columns and columns in the proceedings, as hon. Members will find if they refer to the Report—and there was a material interval between each day of the examination—that the Committee decided that he should have the letters which formed the basis of the complaint and the Privilege proceedings.
It is not that the Committee did not know, because, on the first day of the giving of his evidence, it transpired that the Clerk had not seen the letters and that his memorandum was composed on the basis of general matter. It is surely extraordinary, when one asks the Clerk of the House of Commons, out of the great depth and width of his knowledge, to produce a memorandum and give evidence, that one should not see that he has all the written evidence in existence before his evidence is given. I feel that the Committee is open to criticism in that respect, and I wonder that it did not see that that was done.
The matter went, on a certain aspect, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has been very fair about that. I wish only to make doubly sure that the House realises, as I feel that it does, that the Judicial Committee in no way pronounced upon the merits of this case. Indeed, on the last page of its Report, it said:In particular, they"—that is, the Judicial Committee—express no opinion whether the proceedings referred to in the introductory paragraph were 'a proceeding in Parliament', a question not discussed before them, nor on the question whether the mere issue of a writ would in any circumstances be a breach of privilege. In taking this course they have been mindful of the inalienable right of Her Majesty's subjects to have recourse to her Courts of Law for the 231 remedy of their wrongs and would not prejudice the hearing of any cause in which a plaintiff sought relief.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I accept that rebuke, but I should like to ask my right hon. Friend this question. Is it not a fact that the Judicial Committee was not entitled to look at (a) and (b), but only at (c), the question of Privilege belonging to us?
§ Mr. Morrison
Quite right. I was about to say that. My right hon. Friend will find that it had not escaped my attention. It is right that that should be mentioned and the point made.
The Committee of Privileges itself had decided that the letter written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall to the Paymaster-General outside the walls of Parliament was a "proceeding in Parliament". The Judicial Committee knew that and it had, I agree, no right to challenge it, because the House of Commons is the interpreter of its own law of Privilege. Whether at any time it will come into conflict with the courts we do not know, but I fully accept the doctrine that it is for this House to interpret its rules and laws of Privilege as applied to particular cases.
I do not want the document emanating from the Judicial Committee to be thought in any way a pronouncement which really has relation with what we are debating today. Indeed, I get but little excited about this 1770 business and I feel that it had little relevance to the case before us.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I apologise to my right hon. Friend for interrupting, but this really goes to the root of the matter. It ought to be said here and now that, at the first meeting of the Committee, the Attorney-General said that this was a matter with which we had no concern because the Act of 1770 says that a writ can be issued.
As regards what my right hon. Friend said just now, several times, in the early sittings of the Committee, I said that when I am at a coroner's inquest the first thing I do is to look at the corpse. In this case, I wanted to look at the letters 232 from my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) which were the subject of the complaint. I do not want my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) to think that that point was overlooked in the discussions in the Committee.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am much obliged, and I think that what my right hon. Friend said towards the end of his intervention confirms my point that, not only ought the Committee to have had it but the Clerk of the House, who prepared a very important document, ought to have had it just as soon as the members of the Committee did.
As regards the other point about 1770 and all that, nobody knows better than I how my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) enjoys himself over the mischievous conduct of monarchs in centuries past. From my reading of the evidence I realise that that matter was raised by the Attorney-General. Quite frankly, I could never become as excited about it as did the Attorney-General. But, at any rate, he enjoyed himself, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) enjoyed himself, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields. As far as I can see, a good time was had by all, but I have not been greatly excited in reading that part of the evidence.
The term "proceeding in Parliament" is the essence of what we are debating; this is the biggest issue in the debate. We have freedom of speech in this House, and it is very vital that we should retain it. I never imagined, before this case arose, that a proceeding in Parliament should extend to a letter which is sent to somebody outside—[An HON. MEMBER: "Short of a nationalised industry."] All right; to a Minister outside in relation to a nationalised industry.
§ Mr. Bowles
Why does my right hon. Friend keep saying "outside"? A Minister receives his post through the Post Office here.
§ Mr. Morrison
My hon. Friend is living up to his reputation as a lawyer. He knows perfectly well that the letters are promptly taken away from this House to somewhere else. Indeed, personally, I post them to the Minister at his office, 233 which often seems to me the most businesslike thing to do. I cannot see that the doctrine of Privilege ought to extend to a written communication sent privately to a Minister of the Crown. I think that it is very dangerous to the liberties of people outside. It might do grave injustice not only to chairmen of public corporations or chairmen of private companies, but to humble individuals outside Parliament.
Let me give an example, because I do not accept the doctrine that this can be limited to nationalised industries. The Minister of Education, through the local authorities and in some cases directly, is responsible for the good conduct of every teacher, subject to the functioning of the local authority. He can be questioned in this House about the conduct of any teacher. We can put down Questions and the Minister will answer. Suppose a Member of Parliament writes to the Minister of Education and says that a certain teacher is a bad lot—and one can imagine a number of ways in which he might say that a teacher is a bad lot—or that his conduct is open to grave suspicion, or is irregular, or that his morals arewrong. This is a case in which a Minister is even more directly responsible than in a nationalised industry. If it is to be held that in that case the Member of Parliament is protected against action by the teacher, I think that it is rough on the humble member of the teaching profession.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does my right hon. Friend realise that if he is right the result of his argument is this? If any one of us has any information which might justify such an inquiry, then, if my right hon. Friend is right, we must not write a letter to the Minister; we must print it on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not saying that. I am perfectly sure that my hon. Friend, with all his resourcefulness, could find ways and means of letting the Minister know—[HON. MEMBERS: "How?"]without libelling a humble citizen outside and without employing language such as was used in the letter to which I have referred. Therefore, we are in danger of leaving those people in that situation. I take it from what my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said that Members of Parliament must be free to do this sort of thing 234 without the person seeing the letter and certainly without the person having any redress in respect of a wrong to which he might be subjected.
§ Mr. Silverman
I promise not to interrupt again. Suppose the information on which a Member feels bound to institute an inquiry turns out to be wholly false and malicious. Does not my right hon. Friend think that it is in every way better, and in every way more in the public interest and in the interest of the teacher, that the inquiry should be conducted quietly and his honour vindicated without the publication to all the world that would follow on putting the fact on the Order Paper?
§ Mr. Morrison
If the teacher were a constituent of mine, I might well complain about it on the ground that he or she had been subject to much anxiety and sense of insecurity, even if found innocent. It must be remembered that the House proposes to uphold in principle the language of my right hon. Friend. I do not think that it is wise for the House to do what it is proposing to do, namely, in effect to extend by interpretation the doctrine of Privilege as applied to the House of Commons and to enable Members to do this sort of thing, which I think is open to grave question.
I think that this is the first case of this kind.
§ Mr. Morrison
I gather from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that that is so. Therefore, it is a case of great importance and ought to be thought about very carefully. I am a House of Commons man, and I will fight in the last ditch for the rights and liberties of the House of Commons. I believe in freedom of speech here, but in the assertion of the rights of the House we ought to be careful not to injure the legitimate rights of the private citizen outside. I say to the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that this is good liberal doctrine, with a small "1". I am sorry that he has forsaken the faith on this occasion. I think that this is an extension of Privilege, and in accepting the Report we would be going very far in the directions which I have indicated.
235 The complication which is raised is: what do we do with constituents' letters that may be libellous? All of us have had experience of these cases. I read the letters that I receive before I do anything about them, and where a constituent has, in my judgment, said something which may be libellous I think that the right thing to do—and I do it—is to write back to the constituent and say, "I will send this letter on if you tell me that I may, but I must warn you that it may be libellous, although I do not say it is, and might land you in legal proceedings of an expensive character."
§ Mr. Morrison
I think that I do that for my constituents, as all Members of Parliament ought to do.
I would go on to say, "Would you like to reword the letter and soften it down somewhat, in which case it will be probably all right to send?" If he does not want to do that, I may, in the letter to the Minister, soften it down and put in a summary, or ask the Minister to be careful about it. Therefore, there is no great difficulty about that. That is a matter for Members going about their duty in a way which is open to them.
We have not had the defence of the Board to this day. Has it been stopped from publicly defending itself? It would be wrong if that were so.
The question is: should we elevate our rights and privileges to the extent of improperly denying normal rights to ordinary citizens outside, because they as well as Members of Parliament also have rights. I would urge the House not to bring itself into conflict with the public outside by overdoing our claims to Privilege which I think we have been a little in danger of doing during this episode.
There is free speech in the House of Commons. We can say what we like. But there is this difference between a speech in the House and letters sent outside to a Minister. If we speak in the House we can be answered straight away. That is an important difference in the channel of argument and discussion. Today, it is the case of the public board—it has its rights—but tomorrow it may be other people.
236 I want the House of Commons to uphold its legitimate rights, but I want it to uphold the rights of the ordinary humble citizen outside as well, for it must be remembered that it is not only a matter of what the Committee asks the House to approve, of denying the right of certain people to take legal action. There is another paint no less important, namely, that members of great and honourable professions of the Bar and solicitors will, if they accept service on behalf of a client, lay themselves open to criticism and, may be, condemnation and punishment by the House of Commons.
That is a very serious thing and I do not wonder that the General Council of the Bar and the Council of the Law Society have protested against it. [Interruption.] Let us not have these murmurings of sheer prejudice on a day when we are supposed to be acting in a judicial spirit. If I may say so, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), who ought to know better in view of his legal training, is not doing his cause any good by engaging in abuse of that kind. We have the duty to take into account the views of the eminent leaders of the legal profession, and I hope that the House of Commons, while being determined to uphold its traditional privileges, will reject a Report which is denying the rights and the liberties of ordinary people outside.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
It is nearly fifteen months since I submitted to Mr. Speaker that certain letters which I had received threatening me with a libel action were a violation of Parliamentary Privilege. When I did so, I thought that I was putting forward a clear and simple case which would be resolved within a few weeks. The same afternoon, however, I realised how mistaken I was when I studied the many pages of Erskine May on the subject. I then discovered that I had raised a problem whose roots lie deep in the history of our country and whose consideration was likely to be controversial. I hope, however, it will be agreed that the long hours spent by so many busy people over my submission and by this House have been worthwhile, not because they have dealt with my own particular case, which is of comparative unimportance, but because in the end it will, I hope, settle an issue of great 237 constitutional significance affecting the civil liberties of our people and the workings of our Parliamentary institution.
It was for those reasons, and not on personal grounds, that I submitted the matter to the House in the first place. The basic issue, of course, is whether a letter from a Member of Parliament to a Minister should be covered by the same Privilege as a speech made by a Member in the House. Before dealing with the principles involved in that question, however—I want to say something on that matter in a few minutes—I wish to make a few personal statements in view of the criticisms which have been made outside the House and today inside the House about my letter and the action which I originally took.
It has been suggested that because there was a personal aspect to the letter which I wrote to the Paymaster-General that somehow weakened the Privilege aspect of the case. I suggest this is really a false argument. First, because it has always been held by the House that a Member is in no way debarred from taking part in an issue of public concern when he is personally interested provided he discloses that interest. Indeed, it frequently happens that the need to rectify some matter of public concern is only revealed when it comes within the ambit of a Member's personal interest. Moreover, the House usually welcomes a contribution from a Member based on expert knowledge drawn from his own experience in extra-mural affairs.
Secondly, I think it must be apparent to everyone who has read with care the correspondence that passed between myself and the chairman of the Electricity Board, which is printed in the Appendix of the Report, that my interest is an exceedingly remote one—it might almost be called a formal one. It is that I have an indirect connection with a branch of the metal trade with which the Electricity Board deals.
I invite the House to recall the purpose of my letter. It was not to ask for an advantage of any sort, but to acquaint the Minister with my discovery, which I had only just made, that the Board's selling policy was contrary to recognised commercial practice and was preventing it from obtaining a fair market price for its surplus scrap metal, with the result that, 238 in my view, tens of millions of pounds were being wasted annually.
Once I had come to that conclusion, rightly or wrongly—and I only did so after a detailed study of the matter—I would have been failing in my duty as a Member of Parliament if I had not passed on my information and my views to the Minister responsible and urged him to look into it. There was no other practical way of doing it than by sending the Minister a letter setting out the information and my views.
The other point which has been raised about the letter—and it was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) today—concerns its language. I must say that my right hon. Friend stated the matter in terms that surprised and rather shocked me, as his reference to it seemed to be rather in the nature of a personal attack. My right hon. Friend suggested—he was perfectly entitled to do so, of course—that the words in which my letter was couched were too strong and that if anybody accepted the Report of the Committee of Privileges they would be thereby endorsing the language of my letter. Of course, that is not so.
I must, however, say on my own behalf that the language used expressed the views which I held then and which I hold today. Surely a Member of Parliament must be free to write a letter to a Minister on a matter of public concern in such terms as seem to him appropriate. The Minister is free to interpret the letter and the language as he likes. Furthermore, I was not attacking any individual at all. I was attacking the policy adopted by a public board. If a Member feels that such a policy should be criticised in strong terms, then why should he not do so? Is it not his duty to do so? Moreover, if he submits to a Minister that some inquiry is necessary, it is only fair that the Member's presentation of his case should be full and forthright.
There were two sentences in my letter to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South objected. The first was the statement that the behaviour of the Board in this matter was considered a scandal. I was obviously using the word "scandal" in the broad and 239 not the narrow sense. Webster's dictionary defines "scandal" asthat which causes censure as being wrong or flagrant.That is an accurate description of the way the Board's policy was and still is considered by many knowledgeable and responsible people.
The second was my sentence—Inevitably strong suspicion has been engendered throughout the trade by the behaviour of the Board.That is a provable fact, and I hoped that that sentence would persuade the Minister to make some inquiry into that fact.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
What was the insinuation? Suspicion of what? That is the important point.
§ Mr. Strauss
I was perfectly prepared to go into the letter further with the Minister, but I shall not go into those details today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I say that it is a provable fact, and if the Minister or anybody else wants to make an inquiry he will see that the behaviour of the Board has engendered strong suspicion throughout the trade. I stand here and say so, and I know many people who will come along to confirm that.
The point is that if I had not mentioned in my letter what I knew to be a fact, I would have omitted an essential part of the case for investigation and the Minister would not have had before him a vital element in the situation. It was obviously desirable that the Minister should be aware of all the facts in my possession, otherwise he could not properly decide what action, if any he should take.
Two other points were mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South. First, there was the suggestion that I was in some way acting on behalf of a trade association, which is completely unfounded. The second was his comment about my taking two gentlemen with me to see the Chairman of the Board. The explanation is perfectly simple. I spoke to the Chairman of the Board and I asked him whether he would like someone who knew a great deal about the details of this matter, much more than I did, to come along. He said, "Yes." I suggested one name and he suggested the other, and that is why the two gentlemen were there.
240 Having said that in justification of my letter, I admit straight away that when I wrote it I felt strongly about the Board's behaviour, and I did so for a very special reason which I have not mentioned previously, but which I now draw to the attention of the House. For four years as Minister of Supply I was responsible for the disposal of all war surplus material. During that period, my Department sold hundreds of millions of £s worth of goods of every description and I learned a great deal about the disposal of surplus property. I was kept up to the mark by constant representations by the trades concerned and by the vigilance of the House, particularly at Question Time.
The lesson I learned above all was that there was one basic principle in disposing of such goods, publicly-owned or Government-owned goods, which must never be violated, whatever the inconvenience. That was that all goods must be offered for tender or auction and that the potential buyer must have an opportunity of inspecting the goods. It was just that principle which was being flouted by the London Electricity Board. It frankly roused my ire, because I thought that it was all wrong. I told the Chairman of my experience and that I felt keenly about it. I told him, moreover, that I was convinced that Parliament would not have tolerated for a moment from me the practice of disposal which his Board was carrying on.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
In view of the explanation which he has just given, would the right hon. Gentleman mind explaining to the House why he did not stand on the plea of qualified privilege, which was raised on 2nd April, and fight it out like a man?
§ Mr. Strauss
I intended to deal with that later, but I will answer it straight away. As a matter of fact, that had been my intention, but it was pointed out to me by a number of people whom I consulted that this was a House of Commons matter which affected all Members in their normal behaviour, and the practice of the House. For that reason, I felt it was a matter which should go to the Committee of Privileges for consideration and report, finally to be dealt with by the House as a whole. I hope that that answers the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
241 Those were a few personal remarks which I wanted to make about my behaviour in the matter. Having said that, I want to make one or two comments on the principles involved. My first is that whether letters sent by Members to Ministers are covered by Parliamentary Privilege or not there is scarcely a Member who has not believed that he was covered and who has not acted on that assumption.
Is there a Member who has not at some time or other had a complaint from a constituent about ill-treatment by a Government Department, maybe in the Health Service, in one of the Armed Services, or a nationalised industry, a complaint in which the constituent alleges injustice or gross incompetence? Has not every Member on such an occasion forwarded the complaint, when he thought that a prima facie case had been made out, to the Minister for investigation? Of course every Member has, and in sending forward that complaint he has assumed that he was fully covered against any legal action for libel. If he was not, plainly, on every one of those occasions he might find himself in a court of law and involved with all the resulting trouble.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
The right hon. Gentleman has addressed his remarks to all of us as Members of Parliament, but does he not realise that one would be covered by qualified privilege? The case of Rex versus Rule, decided in the Court of Appeal in 1937, would give the right hon. Gentleman the answer to his question.
§ Mr. Strauss
I would not mind going to court and pleading qualified privilege, and I was advised that if I did so my case was exceedingly strong and, indeed, unanswerable. However, the point is that this is a matter affecting not only me but all Members. If someone likes to sue a member for libel and the Member says, "I intend to plead qualified privilege", it means that he is involved in all the delay and vexations of a court action and, probably, in substantial expenses which he might never recover. It is to prevent Members from vexations of that sort that Parliamentary Privilege exists. According to the argument of the hon. Member, there is no point in Parliamentary Privilege whatsoever since qualified privilege would cover all cases. 242 The issue is whether full Parliamentary Privilege should not cover the type of case I have mentioned.
Obviously, if a letter of that sort is not protected by Parliamentary Privilege, the Member concerned must ask a Question about the complaint of his constituent or raise it on the Adjournment, all of which is very inconvenient and very difficult? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] If the case is complex it is something which cannot be raised at Question Time, and the opportunities for an Adjournment debate, as every Member knows, are few and far between.
Far more important, as we just pointed out, doing so would have the grave defect of criticising and possibly denigrating in public the civil servant or Service officer against whom the allegations have been made, possibly without foundation. No Member would want to do such a thing, and no Member would do such a thing. Moreover, it will be within the recollection of the House that Members who have from time to time ventilated allegations against people in the public service have usually been rebuked by the responsible Minister—and quite rightly—and told that in the first place the complaint should have been communicated to the Minister privately, in a letter for investigation.
The only other point I want to put forward is on the question of the public nationalised industries. It is clear that these industries occupy a very important part in our public life. The impact of their actions is considerable on the welfare of the nation as a whole and on hundreds of thousands of individuals, and however our views may differ on the principles of nationalisation we all, I think, agree that these powerful organisations created by the State to serve the State must be subject to the authority of Government and Parliament. The exact measure of this control is still unsettled. At present, the view is that Ministers can give directions on matters of broad national interest but that they should not interfere with the day-to-day matters of administration.
Nevertheless, they are held responsible for the general prosperity of the nationalised industries under their jurisdiction. What are the corresponding duties of Members of Parliament? These 243 plainly include the questioning of Ministers and pressing them on policy matters. Above all, Members have the duty of pressing a Minister on questions of bad public service, general inefficiency, corrupt administration, and, indeed, any matter which appears to involve large-scale waste of public money.
How in practice is a Member to do this? He cannot raise many of these matters at Question Time. That would be out of order. To raise them in debate on the Adjournment is exceedingly difficult, especially if the matters are complex, and a Member may have to wait a very long time before having the opportunity to raise them in debate on the Adjournment. Has he then to wait for a debate on an annual report which may be nine months ahead before he can raise an urgent matter? Of course, he cannot do any of these things.
The only way in which he can effectively raise a matter affecting the nationalised industries is by a letter to the Minister, and if that letter is to be of any value it must be full, forthright and contain all the information which the Member has in his possession, however libellous it may be. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] However libellous it may be: all the information in his possession and which he believes to be true. It is his duty to send it to the Minister for the Minister's consideration.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I want to make it clear, and I think my right hon. Friend ought to be clear, as I think he is, that I was not complaining about a Member's writing to a Minister. I have often done it myself, about publicly-owned industries and otherwise. What I was saying was that there really ought to be some self-discipline on the part of the Member as to the language which he uses. My right hon. Friend is now claiming the right to be as libellous as he likes.
§ Mr. Strauss
My right hon. Friend does not appreciate that the essential fact in a case which might require investigation might be a charge of, for example, corruption. There was a few years ago such a case affecting another Electricity Board.
§ Mr. Strauss
Not in this case. I am not talking of this case at the moment.
It may come to a Member's notice that there is apparent corruption. He is not a court of law; he cannot go into it and settle it. It is his duty to pass the facts in his possession to the appropriate Minister for his investigation. He must do so. The whole question is whether a Member, in doing so, should be covered by parliamentary Privilege or not.
I know that when I was discussing this matter with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South over many years during the periods of the Labour Government he was very insistent then that there should be effective parliamentary control over these nationalised industries. That means proper, effective criticism by Members of Parliament, and that they should take some responsibility in these matters to ensure that it is Parliament which controls these great commercial concerns and that they do not control Parliament or the country.
I am perfectly certain that my right hon. Friend at that time would have been horrified if it had been suggested to him that if a Member came across what appeared to be something wrong he should be restrained from taking effective action through the fear of a possible libel action. I am sure my right hon. Friend would have been even more shocked if it had been suggested to him, if a Member honestly wrote to a Minister asking for an investigation into something he believed to be wrong and the Minister then asked the chairman of the public board concerned to look into the letter and make his comments, that the next thing to happen would be that the chairman would, without even asking the Minister threaten the Member concerned with a libel action. I am sure my right hon. Friend would have been horrified at such a possibility. But that is exactly what has happened here.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that the approach to this problem which he put forward in those days for effective Government control of nationalised industry and criticism by Members of Parliament was correct, and I hope he will agree, too, that the action which he proposed today would stop such effective control and criticism.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
May I ask my right hon. Friend a question for clarification? Would he 245 justify the extension of Privilege for what we say here and what we write to Ministers? Should it be limited to questions about the great nationalised boards or should it apply to any complaint we have to make about any subject?
§ Mr. Strauss
Yes; it should be strictly limited to matters over which the Minister has responsibility. Of course, it would be fantastic if anything outside that should have Parliamentary Privilege.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
The right hon. Gentleman is making it clear in his argument that partial qualified privilege is not satisfactory for a Member to claim when he is placed in these circumstances. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that in the past Members have been afraid of bringing forward complaints because of the possible consequences—I do not believe that to be the fact—or, alternatively, that grave damage has already been incurred by Members by reason of the inadequacy of the qualified privilege? Is he trying to prove that others have suffered a similar fate? If that is his case, he should make it abundantly clear that Members have suffered hitherto under the present system.
§ Mr. Strauss
I made the point earlier. If I did not think it clear, I will repeat it. I said that Members of Parliament have acted for many years on the assumption that letters which they write to Ministers on constituency matters and matters for which Ministers are responsible are covered by Parliamentary Privilege. I am sure that is the fact.
§ Sir S. Summers
But what of the recipients of the letters? It is not a matter of what Members think but of what the recipients of the letters may think.
§ Mr. Strauss
I do not want to go over the ground which the Leader of the House covered today, except in one sentence and on one point. As the Leader of the House said—and this seems to me to be the conclusive argument on the question of precedent—the House considered the Sandys case in 1939. It had a Report before it which said that the statement made by one Member to another when contemplating putting down a Question on the Notice Paper formed part of the business of the House. That was accepted.
§ Mr. Strauss
I think it has already been given. It is on page V of the Report of the Committee of Privileges.
Logically, inevitably, if that is so, then a statement made by a Member to a Minister is also part of the business of the House.
It has been suggested in some newspapers that Parliamentary Privilege in such cases as this gives a Member a benefit which the public do not possess; or, indeed, that it may even be to the disadvantage of the public. We know that "Down with the privileges of Members of Parliament" is a popular line with editorial writers, for while there is a deep respect in this country for Parliament as an institution there is, unfortunately, not the same respect for the Members who compose it. They are always open to attack, and the most common form is to suggest that Members are getting some advantage which ordinary mortals do not possess. There is no doubt that this line finds a ready response among those who are ignorant of our Parliamentary procedure, or who accept without question the wisdom and righteousness of newspaper editors. And it is perhaps significant that the same newspapers which are now opposing the idea that a Member's letters to a Minister should be privileged a few years ago were attacking the recommendation of the Select Committee of an increase in salary for Members.
On both occasions, they have raised the same sort of anti-parliamentary prejudice and bias in the public mind and have used the same sort of language. Let it be admitted that on the previous occasion newspapers in that line were at least temporarily successful. Whatever we think of this type of popular Press campaign, the arguments behind it must be met and answered, because it would certainly be objectionable and even intolerable if Members demanded a privilege which might disadvantage the public. The only justification for any parliamentary Privilege is that it is necessary for a Member in carrying out his duties to his constituents and to the nation. By that test it must stand or fall.
Let us examine for a moment the position from this angle and see how an individual could be damaged by the fact 247 that parliamentary Privilege covered a letter from a Member to a Minister. It has been suggested that this could conceivably happen if a Member, actuated by malice or private interest, wrote a libellous letter about a private individual to a Minister and, as a result, the individual suffered some penalty, maybe dismissal from office. But is this a real or a theoretical danger? Ministers are responsible people, presumably. They are surrounded by experienced advisers and, in the course of their duties, they come across any amount of confidential information about policy matters and about individuals. It is so unlikely as to be almost inconceivable that, in the improbable event of such a malicious letter being written by an irresponsible Member that any Minister, without ample outside confirmation, would act on it in such a way as to harm the individual concerned.
On the other hand, if Members are not able to write fully and frankly to a Minister, without fear of court action, it would not be a remote theoretical possibility but it would follow inevitably that many individuals in the country would not have their grievances against the administration, whether real or fancied, rectified or even examined; and Members would be unable effectively to protect the interests of their constituents. It is therefore for the protection of the public, and in no sense for the protection of Members in their personal capacity, that Parliamentary Privilege should cover Members' communications with a Minister of the Crown.
It was because this threatened libel action against me, arising from a letter which I wrote to the Paymaster-General, raised this vital issue, and not because of any inconvenience or difficulty to myself, that I submitted it to the House. It is my desire, and I am sure that of all of us, that it will be on this question of principle alone that the House will reach its decision tonight.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
I do not intend to make any observations on that part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) which referred to the correspondence in which he engaged. I shall not comment one way or the other on the contents of the letters which he wrote. I agree with him that there is a 248 serious question of principle here, and it is to that I wish to address myself. In the course of doing so, I shall seek to deal with the arguments, which I respectfully submit to him are fallacious, which the right hon. Gentleman advanced for saying that the letters that he wrote to the Paymaster-General should be covered by absolute Parliamentary Privilege.
I have never found it to be an enjoyable experience to be in a minority of one. It is a lonely and rather vulnerable position, and I am glad to find today that there are those who share the views which I expressed. I did not take part in the debate last December. I do so today not to reply to the criticisms which some hon. and right hon. Members have thought fit to make of me, but in the hope that what I have to say may be of some assistance to the House. Ever since this matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges—in that Committee, in the debate last December and in today's debate—it has been apparent that there are those who are in favour of saying that the right hon. Gentleman's letter was protected by Parliamentary Privilege because they think that it should be protected.
In my submission, with the greatest respect to them, that is an entirely wrong approach. We may debate today, but we have not got to decide today, what should or should not be protected by Parliamentary Privilege. What the House has to pronounce upon is simply whether, under the existing law—because the law of privilege is part of the law of the land—Parliamentary Privilege extends so far as the majority of that Committee held. I repeat, because we should all bear this in mind, that today we are concerned with what are and not what should be the privileges of Parliament. In that short passage there really is the answer to a great many of the observations made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall.
I have already expressed my views on the question which concerns us. There are some who think that, if I am right, the existing privileges of Parliament are too restricted in these modern days. I do not share that view, but to those who hold it I would say that the proper and indeed the only way, as my right hon. Friend said, in which the privileges of the House can be validly extended is by 249 legislation. It cannot be done by a resolution, nor can it be done by asserting a privilege that does not exist. If succeed, as I hope to do, in convincing some hon. Members that the existing privileges do not go so far as the Committee held, then, even if they are firmly of the opinion that the privileges of the House should be extended, they should vote for the Amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), for we are concerned not with what should be but what are the privileges of Parliament.
The House has long claimed and exercised the right of determining whether or not there has been a breach of its privileges. That right is not questioned today and has not been questioned at any time, but it has long been recognised that the House cannot of its own extend its privileges. What it does is to determine whether, on the facts of a particular case, there has been a breach. It may be tempting to some to seek to extend the privileges of the House by holding some conduct to be a breach of Privilege, because they think that the privileges should be extended. "Stretching the elastic" is the phrase which I have heard used. But to give way to that temptation is neither very honourable nor very respectable.
Both sides of the House have expressed from time to time their dislike of retroactive legislation. To convict a man of a criminal offence which was not an offence at the time when he acted is something which no one in this country would support. To convict a man of contempt of Parliament, of a breach of Privilege, because later it is decided that Privilege should be extended to apply to the facts of his case is equally offensive and as bad an example of retroactive action as one could find. [Interruption.] The first finding of the Committee was that a breach of Privilege had been committed. That finding of a breach of Privilege is a serious matter.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to interrupt? He has been talking about our dislike of retroactive legislation. Is it not a fact that the Government take executive action in dismissing people from their employment in the Civil Service on the charge that they have 250 certain political associations which may have taken place years ago, and that this decision is taken secretly?
§ The Attorney-General
That seems to me to be quite unrelated to the subject under discussion. I will repeat what I was saying, because the right hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood me.
§ The Attorney-General
I did not use the word "punish" because the Committee decided that no further action should be taken. I said, however, that to convict a man of breach of Privilege because later it is decided that Privilege should be applied to him is wrong, and is as bad an example of retroactive action as one could find.
We are also not discussing today the question whether the London Electricity Board should or should not be allowed to issue or serve a writ upon the right hon. Gentleman. For nothing this House does can prevent a Member of the public from issuing a writ, and nothing this House does can prevent a member of the public from serving that writ on a Member of this House. Let us not delude ourselves about that. Whatever action we may take on the Motion, even if the Motion in the name of my right hon. Friend is carried, it remains open to the London Electricity Board and its servants to issue a writ, to serve it on the right hon. Gentleman and to prosecute an action against him. All this House can do is to seek to deter persons from issuing such writs by threatening to punish them or by punishing them; it cannot prevent the issue of the writ. I hope I have made this clear. A passage to that effect will be found on page 172 of Erskine May.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
That would apply to speeches in this House just as much as to a letter to a Minister?
§ The Attorney-General
Yes it does. It is not a question of "would" apply, it does apply. I am coming to that point because it is important. There is nothing this House can do but seek to deter, and that is stated in Erskine May.
The conclusion of the Committee of Privileges in this case that there was a breach of Privilege depends on the conclusion that the action of the right hon. 251 Gentleman was a proceeding in Parliament within the meaning of the Bill of Rights. The words of Article 9 are:… the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or place out of Parliament.The Bill of Rights is a Statute, and the meaning to be attached to the words in that Statute, "proceedings in Parliament", is a question of law. This House, of course, can put its own interpretation upon those words, but, as my right hon. Friend said, that will not be binding on any court of law, and it is because the courts may reach a different conclusion as to what are the Privileges of Parliament from what this House may reach that a conflict may arise.
We are not here concerned with any Privilege based on any custom or usage, but with a Privilege enshrined in a Statute. In my opinion it would be wrong if this House sought to give a meaning to a Statute which that Statute does not and cannot have. I feel bound to advise the House, as I advised the Committee of Privileges, that in my opinion there cannot be the slightest doubt that the answer to the question whether the letter written by the right hon. Gentleman was a proceeding in Parliament is "No."
I suppose that all of us have on occasions spoken of proceedings in Parliament. Has any hon. or right hon. Member before this case ever thought, when he did so, that he was referring among other things to correspondence he or other Members had had with Ministers? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I do not think so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Privilege it might be, but that is not a proceeding in Parliament. That is not the ordinary meaning of those words, and it is no use pretending that it is the meaning of the words "proceedings in Parliament".
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
Would the Attorney-General say then, following his argument, that a Written Answer to a Question is not a proceeding in Parliament?
§ The Attorney-General
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue my 252 argument he might be able to follow it. That is obviously a proceeding in Parliament because it is obviously within the contemplation of the words. I repeat what I said, despite the interruptions, that although some hon. Members may have thought that letters to Ministers were protected by Privilege, I do not believe that any hon. Members of this House thought that the letters they wrote to members of the Executive constituted proceedings in Parliament.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
May I pursue this point? Let me tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman the normal practice. In 99 cases out of every 100, instead of tabling a Question the Member writes to the Minister to get information and he gets a reply from the Minister. How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman argue that this is outside the proceedings when, if the Member tabled the Question and received a Written Answer from the Minister that would be within them?
§ The Attorney-General
The answer is simple. If a Member tables a Question and receives a Written Answer to it, that is clearly a proceeding in Parliament. [An HON. MEMBER: "And it is published."] And it is published. But when any hon. Member of this House writes a letter to a member of the Executive, it cannot come within the meaning of the words "proceedings in Parliament". That is my view; others may differ.
§ The Attorney-General
I have not completed my argument. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman later.
The Clerk of the House and some Members have suggested that correspondence between Ministers and Members has become such an accepted substitute for Question and Answer that it now forms part of the proceedings of the House. That argument has been put forward and I want to meet it. That appears to me to be simply not the case. It may be argued that it should be the case that it is privileged but it is simply not the case, in my view, that such correspondence is a proceeding in Parliament.
The proceedings of this House are recorded daily in a document we all know, "Votes and Proceedings of the House of Commons." It is issued daily under the authority of Mr. Speaker. It 253 contains no reference to correspondence with Ministers, but if such correspondence is a proceeding in Parliament, should it not be recorded in the daily record?
Erskine May devotes no fewer than 832 pages to what it calls "Proceedings in Parliament", and even within this vast compass the editors have not included a single reference to correspondence with Ministers. The argument that correspondence forms part of our proceedings because it is a substitute for a recognised part of our proceedings simply will not hold water. One might just as well argue that those who used their cars to get to work during the recent strike as a substitute for the buses are to be treated as having travelled in the buses and so are liable to pay the bus fares. The fact that such correspondence is a substitute for Question and Answer really does not make it a proceeding in this House, and lest it be said that there is no alternative in dealing with the nationalised industries than writing to the Ministers—
§ The Attorney-General
Let me finish my sentence. If it be said that there is no alternative in dealing with the nationalised industries than writing to a Minister then that may be a reason for altering the procedure, but it certainly is not a reason for seeking to extend our Privileges.
§ Mr. Paget
May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman a question? A person is elected here. Because he is a Member he can come in here, he uses the paper provided by Parliament, he writes on that paper, he gives it to an attendant provided by Parliament. That attendant delivers it to a Minister, who uses the same machinery to bring the reply to him. Why on earth is not that a proceeding in Parliament? Nothing happens outside.
§ The Attorney-General
Quite clearly, it is not a proceeding in Parliament. I am afraid I have no chance of convincing the hon. and learned Member. It does not come within the compass of that phrase. [interruption.] It is common sense as well as law.
§ Mr. MacDermot
I should like to ask the Attorney-General a question so that the House may understand the scope of 254 his argument. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman urging upon the House that never, under any circumstances, can a letter written to a Minister be a proceeding in Parliament? If so, does he agree with the advice which, apparently, was given by his predecessor in 1939 that in some circumstances such a letter could be a proceeding in Parliament?
§ The Attorney-General
I am coming on to deal in the later part of my speech with what could be a proceeding in Parliament.
§ The Attorney-General
I would like to make my speech in my own way. I would say to the hon. Member that it may not be easy to draw a precise limit. Sending a draft Question from the country to the Clerk of the House to be tabled is obviously, I should have thought, just within the border. If, however, the hon. Member looks at the Report of the 1939 Committee he will find that the conclusion at which it arrived was of a very negative character. I will come on to that.
As my right hon. Friend said, the majority of the Committee of Privileges based its conclusions, quite frankly, on the reasoning of the Report of the Select Committee of 1939. It was the conclusions of that Committee which were approved by the House, but it should not be taken from that that the House approved of the reasoning which led to those conclusions. I should like to say a word or two about those conclusions, because paragraphs 2 to 8 of the Select Committee's Report of 1939 are cited in full as the basis of the Majority Report.
Paragraph 5 of the 1939 Select Committee's Report which is cited in the Report of the Committee of Privileges starts in this way:There is authority for saying that an act not done in the immediate presence of the House may yet be held to be done constructively in Parliament and therefore protected.In support of that proposition, the 1939 Committee quoted some statements of Sir Robert Atkyns, who is referred to assometime Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequerwhoin his Argument upon the case of Sir William Williams, says …255 The reference in the Report to theLord Chief Baron … in his Argumentspelt with a capital "A", looks very impressive. At the time of the case, however, Sir Robert Atkyns was a junior counsel and his argument was a submission which he made to the court which tried Sir William Williams whom Sir Robert was defending. That submission which the 1939 Committee cited as an authority, was rejected by the court to which it was addressed. So much for that authority. I wonder who it was who elevated the argument of junior counsel, advanced on behalf of his client, into a legal authority.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
May I enlighten the right hon. and learned Gentleman? Was it not one of his predecessors in office belonging to his own party?
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think that that is right.
Paragraph 6 of the Report, quoted by the majority of the Committee of Privileges, stated the view of Sir Gilbert Campion that'the immunity of members from the criminal law in respect of acts done by them in the exercise of the functions of their office' could 'not be confined to acts done within the four walls of the House'and three cases are referred to. The House will see that a dictum from the judgment of Mr. Justice O'Connor, in a case in the High Court of Ontario, is referred to. The Report does not state that it was a dissenting judgment. While I have some fellow feeling for Mr. Justice O'Connor, who was also in a minority, that does not make his judgment a legal authority.
The second case relied on in paragraph 6 of the 1939 Committee's Report was one which came before the Court of Massachusetts. In that case, the court held that a slander spoken by one Member about another behind the Speaker's Chair did not form part of a proceeding in Parliament because it related to a Bill which had just been passed and had, therefore, ceased to be a proceeding. That decision is to precisely the reverse effect of the argument which was put forward in paragraph 6.
The third and last case cited merely decided that the American House of Representatives had no power to commit 256 for contempt and that the validity of its resolutions could not be challenged by the device of suing those who voted in favour of them. It had, therefore, nothing to do with the question which the 1939 Committee was considering, and it has nothing to do with the question which the Committee of Privileges had to consider. Such was the basis of law—very phoney law, some would say—on which the 1939 Committee based its conclusions and on which the Committee of Privileges also based its conclusions.
One other passage from the 1939 Report has found its way into Erskine May, and as it was quoted by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) in the December debate as relevant to the question that we are considering I should like to refer to it. The passage is the last sentence in paragraph 18 of the 1939 Report and reads as follows:Any action which, without actually infringing any privilege enjoyed by members of the House in their capacity as members, yet obstructs or impedes them in the discharge of their duties, or tends to produce such results, even though the act be lawful, may be held to be a contempt of the House.That is a very far-reaching proposition. If it be right, it would presumably follow that the police are guilty of a contempt of the House if they prevent a Member arriving in time for a Division by towing away his car. The authority for this proposition, according to the 1939 Committee's Report, was a memorandum submitted by Lord Campion. When one looks at that memorandum, however, one sees that Lord Campion did not make that statement and that what he said has been materially altered. He never said that any action whichwithout actually infringing any privilege enjoyed by Members of the House in their capacity as Membersyet obstructs or impedes them in the discharge of their duties may be held to be a contempt. It is there in the Report and it can be checked.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
The dicta and cases to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred formed part of the evidence of Sir Gilbert Campion before the 1939 Committee. The proposition that Sir Gilbert Campion was seeking to put was that the immunity of Members could not be confined to acts done within the four walls of the House. 257 It seams to me that in the draft Report proposed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that same proposition, or something very much like it, was put forward by him, because at the bottom of page xxix I see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested thatYour Committee agree with the 1939 Committee that it would be 'unreasonable to conclude that no act is within the scope of a Member's duties in the course of parliamentary business unless it is done in the House or a committee thereof while the House or committee is sitting'.As I understand it, it was to that proposition and to rather similar questions immediately preceding it in the 1939 Report that Sir Gilbert Campion's evidence was directed. Whether his reasons were good or bad, he seems to have had the support of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ The Attorney-General
I am dealing with the reasoning which led to the conclusion of the 1939 Committee. I will come to the conclusion in a moment. I intended to say a word or two about it. I thought it right to inform the House and put it on record so that no one should in future be under a misunderstanding as to what those decisions really decided. As the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, the 1939 Committee concluded that in its view it would beunreasonable to conclude that no act is within the scope of a Member's duties in the course of parliamentary business unless it is done in the House or a committee thereof while the House or committee is sitting.I am not dissenting from that as a proposition, but that negative conclusion does not really help us—and this is the point that I want to make—in deciding what is a proceeding in Parliament.
I said earlier that, in their ordinary meaning and in my view, the words "proceedings in Parliament" do not include our correspondence with Ministers. I do not think that there is any legal authority of any weight for giving them the artificial and unreal view that is now contended for. The question whether any particular act or speech or writing forms part of the proceedings of Parliament is a mere question of fact and the answer to it cannot depend on the question of whether there is any Ministerial responsibility for the subject matter.
Even if the right hon. Gentleman's letter did form part of the proceedings of this House—despite the fact that the 258 House did not know of it when it was sent and might never have known of it—I go on to assert that a threat to issue a writ in respect of it cannot constitute a breach of privilege.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman if he is still dealing with the 1939 Report, but I understand from him that he agrees that a proceeding in Parliament is not to be confined to acts done within the four walls of the House, and he therefore agrees that it must have some constructive interpretation and not a literal and physical interpretation, so he himself agrees that it must have some expansion of the literal meaning of the words. Does he then agree, before leaving the 1939 Report, with the conclusion of the 1939 Committee agreeing with Mr. Justice O'Connor's dictum—I agree that it is not a judgment but a dictum and it is a dictum with which the Committee of this House and the whole House have agreed—that anything one may say or do within the scope of his duties in the course of Parliamentary business is privileged? Does he or does he not agree with that view?
Lastly, does he agree with the approach of his predecessor as Attorney-General, now Lord Somervell, in the passage in paragraph 4 of the 1939 Report where it refers, as an instance of what is in the course of Parliamentary business, to the case in which an hon. Member sends to a Minister the draft of a Question which he is thinking of putting down. Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that that would be within the scope of Parliamentary business and, if so, how does he draw a distinction between that and a letter which is sent to a Minister about a matter for which the Minister is responsible and about which a Question may be asked in Parliament?
§ The Attorney-General
I will deal with that very fully if I may, but I do not want, as I have said, to take up too long. The conclusion of the 1939 Committee was a conclusion which I have read already. It precedes that conclusion by saying:Whatever may be said with regard to acts resulting from the nature of an office of a member and done in the execution of that 259 office generally, Mr. Justice O'Connor's dictum must, Your Committee think, command general assent;That is an expression of view by the Committee.
§ The Attorney-General
No, the House approved the conclusion, but do not let us quarrel about that.
It is quite true, I think, that we cannot restrict it absolutely to proceedings in this House. For instance, if a letter was written by a Member of Parliament in the country to the Clerk of the House asking him to table a Question, I would have no doubt myself in saying that the letter was so closely related to the procedure of asking a Question that it formed part of the procedure. That is a very different position from a letter which is sent to a Minister of which Parliament may never be cognisant at all.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
Supposing a Member of Parliament has an interview here with a person and that, as a result of that interview, when he leaves Parliament he decides to write to the Minister. Is that interview in Parliament and the subsequent letter covered by privilege or is the Member liable to action if he is wrong?
§ The Attorney-General
I will come to that liability for action in a moment. An interview which a Member has in the Central Lobby with a number of people certainly would not be a proceeding in Parliament in this context.
I was going on to say—and I apologise to the House if I am taking too long but I want to cover a good deal of ground—that even if the right hon. Gentleman's letter did form part of proceedings in Parliament, in spite of the fact that the House did not know of it, I would say that the threat to issue a writ in respect of it cannot constitute a breach of privilege.
Some hon. Members seem to think that a writ cannot be issued against a Member for something actually said in this House about which there is no doubt that privilege attaches. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said in our debate last December:I venture to say that if it had been put to any hon. Member of the House on the 260 morning that the Attorney-General submitted his paper to the Committee of Privileges that it was possible to start an action against an hon. Member of this House for something he said in the House, it would have been treated as something not worth paying attention to.The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), who should know better, said:It has been the accepted, unchallenged doctrine, as part of the law of the land, for 187 years that if a Member of Parliament makes a speech in this House nobody can issue a writ against him."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1957: Vol. 579, c. 411 and 464.]That is quite wrong. This House cannot prevent the issue of writs except by passing a Statute and the only Statute that gives power to stop persons issuing writs is the Judicature Act which enables proceedings to be taken to stop the issue of writs by vexatious litigants.
In Dillon v. Balfour, a case decided in 1887 in Ireland, a writ was issued inter alia in respect of a speech made by Mr. Balfour in this House. Mr. Balfour, incidentally, did not bring it to the notice of Mr. Speaker as a breach of privilege of this House. I am making no criticism about that. The court set the writ aside as an abuse of the process of the court and that is, in my view, what would happen here if such a writ was issued against a Member.
Once it was clear that it was in respect of a proceeding in Parliament, that would happen, and it is because that would happen that Members of Parliament do not receive writs for what they say in this House. But the House cannot prevent the issue of a writ. The House has never treated the issue of a writ as a breach of its privileges and there is some judicial authority that the mere issue of a writ never was a breach of privilege.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but there is nothing in this point. In the case of Dillon v. Balfour there is nothing to say that the written statemeruts were taken off the records of the court because the court had no jurisdiction in the matter. No doubt someone did get out a piece of paper, but that is what it came to and that is what Chief Baron Palles said at the time.
§ The Attorney-General
I am sure that it is my fault if the hon. Gentleman did not hear what I said. I said that 261 there was no obstacle to the issue of a writ. It was issued in that case, and it may well be that the writ having been dismissed, owing perhaps to the plaintiff not being able to pay the costs, some of the costs had to be paid by Mr. Balfour.
§ Mr. Fletcher
It has commonly been considered for over 150 years that when the Bill of Rights said that the freedom of the subjects should not be questioned in any court that means that no writ should be issued for anything said in this House.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not accept that for one moment. What it does mean is that the courts have no jurisdiction to hear such an action. That is quite a different thing from the issue of a writ.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
Before my right hon. and learned Friend was interrupted he said that in the case of a proceeding in Parliament the court would probably set aside the writ, or disallow it. Would the court disallow a writ in a proceeding in Parliament as interpreted by my right hon. and learned Friend now, or as interpreted by the rest of the Committee of Privileges?
§ The Attorney-General
The answer is that the interpretation that I put upon it, or the interpretation which the rest of the Committee of Privileges put upon it, would have no relevance to the court; the court would apply its own interpretation and make its own decision whether or not it was a proceeding in Parliament. It would not be in the least bound by a decision of this House either way.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
What does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that the court would decide?
§ The Attorney-General
If the hon. Member is asking for my opinion, I should say without hesitation, on the facts of this case, that the court would hold that the letter written by the right hon. Gentleman was not a proceeding in Parliament.
It is true that the service of a writ upon a Member used to be regarded and treated as a breach of Privilege, but the last case that I can find where the House of Commons did that was in 1757, at a time when privileges were treated as being far more extensive than they are now. 262 In that case the plaintiff, his attorney and another were committed to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms for serving a writ for trespass. One can find other examples of the lengths to which the House went in those days. In 1700, one Rogers, an attorney, was committed for sending an exorbitant bill of costs to the gunners of Portsmouth, and in 1753 some unfortunate person was committed for a breach of the Privilege of this House for fishing in Mr. Joliffe's pond.
As far as I can find out, for 200 years this House has not treated the issue of legal proceedings as a breach of Privilege. I submit that we should think long before, by endorsing the conclusions of the Committee, we interfere with and seek to prevent the exercise of what the Judicial Committee described asthe inalienable right of Her Majesty's subjects to have recourse to Her Courts of Law for the remedy of their wrongs.That statement echoes the address of the House of Lords to Her Majesty in relation to the five men of Aylesbury which said:It is the birth right of every Englishman who apprehends himself to be injured to seek for redress in your Majesty's Courts of Justice, and if there be any power can control this right and can prescribe when he shall and when he shall not be allowed the benefit of the Laws, he ceases to be a Freeman and his liberty and Property are precarious. … The Crown lays claim to no such power and we are sure the Law has trusted no such authority with any subjects whatsoever.If a man mistakes his Case, in believing himself to have a good cause of suit when he has not: if he mistakes his Court by applying to an incompetent jurisdiction; he will fail of relief and be liable to costs but to no other punishment. He is not guilty of a crime nor is it a contempt of the Court that has the proper jurisdiction.It is for the reasons that I have done my best to make clear that I hold the view that a threat to issue a writ, or the issue of a writ—no matter what the subject matter of the action may be—cannot properly be regarded or treated as a breach of the Privilege of Parliament. The Bill of Rights says that a proceeding in Parliament may not be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament. A breach of that privilege, in my view, occurs when, and not before, a court entertains an action brought in relation to our proceedings. That stage is not reached by the issue of a writ, or on its service. These are acts of the plaintiff, 263 and what is prohibited is the questioning in any court or place out of Parliament.
Several hon. Members have expressed great concern, in this debate and before, at the possibility that if the Reports of the Committee are rejected they may be made defendants in libel actions as a result of the letters they have written to Ministers—and that they may be left to pay costs not recovered from the plaintiff. I want to say something about that contention. It is a risk which all members of the public run. Only last week I obtained an order to stop a vexatious litigant bringing proceedings without leave. Among other things, he had issued writs against three teachers. There was no substance in them, and it may well be that those teachers were, or will be, unable to recover the costs they had to incur to get rid of those writs.
I would ask the House to consider this matter with a degree of proportion. So far as I have been able to discover, during the last 75 years legal proceedings have been instituted against Members of Parliament in respect of things done by them in their capacity as Members in not more than three cases, one of which I referred to in a footnote to my draft report. I think everyone would agree that it would have been scandalous if the plaintiff in that case had been prevented by a plea of Privilege from obtaining damages for the very grievous injury done to him. That was an action which arose from and depended to a large extent upon a letter sent by a Member of this House to the then Home Secretary.
It is not the fear of being in contempt of Parliament that dissuades the litigant from issuing writs against us; it is the knowledge that he himself will be penalised in costs—and the possibility that the defendant Member may also incur some costs is, I submit, no ground for stretching the elastic and extending our privileges.
I began by saying that it was not for us to debate today what should or should not be the Privileges of Parliament, but I think that I should be failing in my duty if I did not point out as clearly as I can what is involved in the decision which the House has to take today. The law of libel recognises as entitled to qualified privilege the letter which a Member of Parliament writes to a 264 Minister, such as the right hon. Gentleman wrote here. There is no doubt about that. That means that, even if the letter be both defamatory and false—and I do not suggest for one moment that it is in this case—the action against the Member cannot succeed if the letter was written in good faith.
§ Mr. Paget
If a Member passes on a letter from his constituent, making a complaint against some official, and, without any knowledge on the Member's part, that letter turns out to be malicious, the malice of his constituent would destroy his Privilege and, having passed on the constituent's complaint, he would have no redress.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not accept that—but I should like to get on. I want to make it clear—as I thought I already had—that what this House decides today will not affect the law of the land as it is applied by the courts. If the Committee's Report is approved it will not mean that in an action in the courts the Member who writes such a letter will be absolutely protected. If the Motion is carried it will not give absolute protection in the courts. An action can be started and prosecuted. What it will mean is that the House is expressing a view, and that view will be that the existing protection which the law gives is insufficient—that a Member who writes a letter which is defamatory and false, or in bad faith, or malicious, should be wholly protected.
§ The Attorney-General
What he says on the Floor of the House is subject to the rules of order. If the Report were approved it would mean that the House had come to the conclusion that a Member should get a greater degree of immunity than he would get in respect of what he says here, for what he says here is subject to the rules of order.
As the Select Committee in 1939 pointed out, the House of Commons has disciplinary powers over its Members; and the Member who abuses his privilege of speech may be punished. But if the writing of letters to Ministers is privileged, the member who writes a thoroughly defamatory and malicious 265 letter runs little risk of being punished by the House. The fact is that what he writes is not subject to the rules of order and may never come within the purview of the House.
In my submission, this House would be expressing a view in favour of unrestricted freedom to defame and injure members of the public in the exercise of malice, and in favour of the view that a member of the public injured should be deprived of all redress. The House would be expressing the view that the inalienable right—a right recognised for centuries—of Her Majesty's subjects to have recourse to the courts for the remedy of their wrongs should be restricted. If that is the view of the House—it certainly is not mine—it should be embodied in legislation to be effective. That view should not be expressed by seeking to give to the phrase "proceedings in Parliament" a wholly unreal meaning.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
Before I come to the main issue before the House, I should like to make two comments on one part of the speech of the right hon. and learned Attorney-General. He referred to the Report by the Select Committee in 1939. The Committee of Privileges, whose Report the House is now considering, naturally accepted the statements made in that earlier Report. I should have been much happier had the Attorney-General made the criticisms he has now made when that Report was before the Committee of Privileges. It would have been much more helpful. It might also have been helpful had he informed the House that that Select Committee relied for the statements that were made in that Report upon statements made by his predecessor who was then Attorney-General in a Conservative Government.
I leave the question as to which is accurate to be decided between the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his predecessor who is now a noble Lord. The Committees of Privileges have always regarded the Attorney-General as their legal guide in these matters, and it would have been of much assistance to this Committee of Privileges had the Attorney-General called our attention to the matters to which he has now directed the attention of the House.
266 I wish now to come to the main issue and, first, to say that I think that not only this House but the public generally owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Leader of the House for the fair way in which he presented his views: not only this House, but future Houses, for upon the decision made today will depend not only the rights of hon. Members of this House, but those of future hon. Members. The scope is even wider than that, for this House has been regarded not only as the Mother of Parliaments but as the pattern of Parliaments, certainly throughout the Commonwealth, and by many other countries. They follow the rules of this House and adopt its privileges, and what this House decides today will affect them as well. That is why I think that we are deeply indebted to the Leader of the House.
Very rightly the right hon. Gentleman said that the Privilege of the House is the protection of the public. I want to emphasise that because that Privilege is not the Privilege of any particular and individual hon. Member. It is the Privilege of the House as a whole. It is the Privilege of the institution, if I may so describe this House. That must be borne in mind, because, even when listening to the Attorney-General, one rather gathered the impression from him that Privilege was not one which extended to the institution as Parliament, but was something to do with this particular building. The building has nothing to do with it. It is the Parliament itself and the duties of Members of Parliament and their responsibility to the public.
I wish to deal with this matter very shortly and to be as concise as I can. Three questions were before the Committee of Privileges: first, was the letter written by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) a proceeding in Parliament? Secondly, was the letter written on 27th March, 1957 by the solicitors acting for the Chairman of the Electricity Board a breach of Privilege? The third question was whether, even were it a breach of Privilege, the House is prevented from acting on it by reason of the Act of 1770? The Attorney-General began by reminding the House that he had been consistent throughout. I agree. His answer to all these three questions was in the negative. I will refer to the third 267 one, the effect of the Act of 1770, by saying that I also was equally consistent in the view which I then expressed which differed entirely from the right hon. Gentleman's view, and that was the view adopted by the Privy Council. I do not think there can be any doubt whatever about the second question.
The particular Privilege we are discussing today is the only one which is enshrined in an Act of Parliament. It was necessary to have it enshrined in an Act of Parliament, because all along the Privilege that arises with regard to membership of this House had been challenged time and again. So it was that when James II had gone, and the people had called on William of Orange to come over to this country—accompanied by his wife, who afterwards became Queen Mary—the Bill of Rights, which was really a sort of contract document, was drawn up by the House to assert what it regarded as its rights in defence of the freedom of this land and its people.
The House made a bargain with His Majesty, or rather with one who became His Majesty King William III and said, "If you agree with this and sign this, you may become King of this land and your Princess may become Queen Mary." That is how the Bill of Rights came into existence. I think it is wrong to refer to it as the Bill of Rights of 1688, because it actually became the law of the land in 1689. But I say that only to emphasise that that is the one bit of our constitution which is really written; and therefore one realises the sanctity of that Act, and particularly the Section to which we are referring today. The words there are:That the freedom of speech and debate or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.It is because that letter to which I referred as being written on 27th March, threatening to take proceedings against the right hon. Member for Vauxhall, was written, that I am saying that that was a threat; that was a questioning of the right of the right hon. Member to write the letter that he did to the Chairman of the Electricity Board. Therefore, it was a questioning of his right to do so not in this House but in some other place, which would have been the Royal Courts of 268 Justice. That being so, we say that that was a breach of Privilege.
Then came the other great question. Is this a proceeding in Parliament? It is well to look back at the position in this House in 1688 when those words were written:Freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.Of course there were speeches and debates in that Parliament, but its proceedings were very different from the proceedings in this Parliament. If we were to be limited to the proceedings which are protected by the Act of 1689 and make them static to what they were in 1688, they ought not to have been extended at all. Nobody challenges the extensions that there have been and the changes that have come about since 1688.
For example, in 1688 there were no Questions. There were no Ministers of whom members could have asked Questions. In fact, Questions were very rare until the beginning of this Century. Questions, as we know them now, oral and put in the form of a request for an answer, are something that has extended the proceedings of Parliament as they were known in 1688. The Attorney General has said that the form of Question in which we indicate our willingness to accept a Written Answer is clearly a breach of Privilege.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Surely Written Questions are a proceeding in Parliament because they are actually tabled.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Gentleman seems to be paying more attention to the building than he is to the institution. The House of Commons came to the conclusion long ago that it is not limited in its claim to Privilege by what were the proceedings in 1688. Therefore, we come to the question: Is the position such today that a Member of Parliament who has a duty to the public limited in his claim to Privilege, because he is doing something which was not done in a previous Parliament?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am following with interest the argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and on the whole I agree with it, but both he and the Attorney-General seem to be insisting that 269 all our privileges depend upon this Statute. That would seem to put less value upon a Resolution passed by this House. If the House interprets what it means by "a proceeding in Parliament", is not that just as effective as a Statute passed in 1689?
§ Mr. Davies
No, it is not as effective. A number of privileges attach to Parliament, but the one embodied in the Act of 1689 is the only one embodied in a Statute. For example, the right of ingress and egress is not embodied in any Act of Parliament but it is a claim that we assert.
I come to the one real question, namely, whether the right hon. Gentleman's letter was a proceeding in Parliament. We have long been in the habit, as Members of Parliament, not only of asking Questions in this House. These are limited in number. Rarely do we ever complete the number of Questions for Oral Answer. In order that we may raise a matter which has been put to us we write to a Minister because in that way we get a long letter from the Minister rather than the short answer given across the Table. We have been in the habit of doing that because we think we are thus serving the public better.
The Attorney-General has said that if we do our work in that way we run the risk of losing the Privilege which is otherwise ours. That is the great question. Its answer does not depend upon what was contained in the letter. The question whether the letter from the Board's solicitors was an abuse is not a matter for us to discuss. The one and only question is: Was the letter written by the solicitors a threat of proceedings against a right hon. Member of this House for something which, in the opinion of the Committee of Privileges, he was entitled to do in the course of his duty? That is all that we have to consider.
We are told, "Oh, but you are now claiming to extend your Privilege." We cannot extend our Privilege. On that point we are all at one. There is no power in this House to extend its Privilege, but on the other hand there is the duty on the House to defend its privileges. It is a duty which it owes not only to the House of Commons and to future Houses but to the public at large. This is the place where we defend the rights of the public. The right hon. Member for 270 Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) rather sneered at me and referred to "liberalism with a small 'l'," but I view the matter with a large "L". It is the question what rights have been conferred upon me as a member of the public by the use of the Privileges of this House. That is really the issue.
Then we are asked, "Are you claiming rights beyond those of the ordinary member of the public?" Of course we are. The Act of 1689 does not protect the public at large but only Members of Parliament acting in the course of our duties. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) interrupted the right hon. Member for Vauxhall and asked, "Why did you not stand on the plea of qualified privilege?" I answer, was it not his duty to do so as a Member of this House? The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say why the right hon. Gentleman should not have done that, and said that he should "stand up like a man".
Really, what the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey was asking the House to do was to reverse the Act of 1689 and to do away with the Bill of Rights. Then we should have no Privilege but would be like the ordinary man in the street, busybodies not doing any particular job for the protection of the public.
§ Mr. Davies
The real trouble arises if an action is brought against us. The difference between an issue in breach of Privilege and one not in breach of Privilege is that the writ issued in breach of Privilege is struck out when attention is directed to it in this House. In the other case, the case has to be defended. The Member concerned writes to a Minister and thinks that he is doing something which is really helpful. This is where I differ again from the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. He would prefer a Question to be put in the House with all the attention that is then given to it. It is publicised everywhere, with slanderous statements about somebody whose name is included in the Question. 271 Another hon. Member may say, "Rather than do that I will write to the Minister", so he includes a letter and asks that an inquiry should be made.
People then ask, "Why should not you Members of Parliament stand in exactly the same position as the ordinary person?" That would mean that, in addition to all the duties that we have upon us, the Member of Parliament would be subject to a writ. Then he would have to employ a solicitor. The solicitor would go to counsel. All the time the Member of Parliament would be trying to do his duty with this action about his head, waiting for decision. It is said that if one can prove that the words uttered are true—and the burden of that is upon the defendant—judgment will be entered for the Member, but if qualified privilege is pleaded, judgment will be given for the defendant so long as the judge and jury are satisfied that there is no malice.
The Member has to wait for perhaps twelve months for the matter to come before a judge and jury and for that time the Member is wondering what will be the result. How can he carry out his duties in this House in that time in connection with other matters? There was an interesting letter in The Times this morning on this subject. That letter said:The Member of Parliament discharging his duty as he does in an honest and responsible way has no need of the protection of any 'absolute' privilege in the circumstances now under discussion.
§ Mr. Davies
I am glad to hear that sign of approval. The letter continued:If what he says is true he can, under the ordinary law, plead justification in the unlikely event of his being sued.And when he cannot show that what he said was true the law of qualified privilege—that is to say, the ordinary law of the land—will give him complete protection provided he acted honestly and without malice, even though stupidly and unreasonably. Can more be reasonably required?That letter was by a very respected former Member of this House, Sir Hartley Shawcross. Can anything more be reasonably required for solicitors and counsel? No, but all that the poor Member of Parliament gets after standing the racket for twelve months to get justice and all the time providing money for his solicitors, is the costs the court awards 272 when he has won. As we well know, such a person gets reimbursed roughly anything between two-thirds and half of what he is out of pocket. It all depends on the expense to which he has gone.
I can well imagine if Sir Hartley Shawcross was practising, a Member of this House, would say, "This is a question of Privilege and so much is involved, I should like the leading member of the Bar to deal with it." I dare say he would be defended for £1,000 or £1,500, but all that would be allowed in costs would be £150. The rest would have to come out of the pocket of the litigant for the defence of what he had said in this House. The nonsense is that if he says it in this House he is completely free and privileged, but if he takes the sensible course of writing to a Minister he is not.
If this House votes that this Privilege, granted in 1688, does not extend to us today, it will be throttling all Members and doing the greatest disservice to the people of this country that has been done for 350 years.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)
I differ, and I differed in the Committee, from the Attorney-General. I differed there for two reasons. First, I did not think it would be right for the Committee of Privileges to overrule what I understood had been approved by this House in 1939 and, secondly, I believe, as I believed then that the answer given to the only material question was that the letter of 8th February last year was a proceeding in Parliament.
It is perfectly true that technically the Committee of Privileges was not bound by a decision of the Select Committee, even though that decision had been approved by this House. On the other hand, when we find that a Select Committee has gone over the matter at great length and taken a great deal of evidence on a matter material to its investigation and to the question which a subsequent Committee of Privileges has to decide and which has been approved by this House, at least the Committee of Privileges ought to pay the greatest respect to what has taken place in the years before, even though it is not technically bound by that decision.
I will not repeat everything that has been said, but I draw the attention of the 273 House to paragraph 4 of the Report of the Select Committee of 1939. It has been referred to and I think it very important that it should be read. This is what the Committee said, based on the findings of Lord Somervell, the then Attorney-General—anyone who takes the trouble to look at his evidence will find graphic references to which the sentences relate:The privilege of freedom of speech being confined to words spoken or things done in the course of parliamentary proceedings, words spoken or things done by a Member beyond the walls of Parliament will generally not be protected. Cases may, however, easily be imagined of communications between one Member and another, or between a Member and a Minister, so closely related to some matter pending in, or expected to be brought before, the House, that though they do not take place in the chamber or a committee room they form part of the business of the House, as, for example, where a Member send to a Minister the draft of a question he is thinking of putting down or shows it to another Member with a view to obtaining advice as to the propriety of putting it down or as to the manner in which it should be framed. The Attorney-General said that, should such a case come before the courts, he could not but think that they would give a broad construction to the term 'proceedings in Parliament' having regard to the great fundamental purpose which the privilege of freedom of speech served and that he could 'see a possible construction of "proceedings" which would extend to matters outside the precincts if they were related to what is to happen in the House.'I give the reasons why I think it is right. What would happen if we took the other view? What would happen if we took the view that a draft Question, a Question on the Order Paper, or a supplementary question was absolutely privileged, but, none the less, to write to a Minister quietly, or possibly to go and see him and give him a letter from a constituent making some sort of charge against someone in connection with a business for which he is responsible, would mean getting into trouble? I think it would simply result in this. We should not get on the Order Paper—because I think there would be serious difficulty in getting them passed by the Table—Questions imputing clearly libellous allegations against third parties. We should simply get some innocent general Question directed to the same point, and then supplementary questions asking if the Minister has heard of such-and-such a case.
274 It is perfectly true that some Ministers would be able to say at once that there was nothing in that charge, but the person would have been named and the transaction would have been identified. It does not matter what is done in this House, I assure hon. Members that the stigma would stick. It goes all round the world, and it sticks, and it is far more serious, from the point of view of our constituents, to have anything of that sort done by means of a Question or supplementary question than if it is done by means of a letter to a Minister.
There is no doubt whatever that, owing to the way in which Questions have increased in number during the last twenty-five years, which covers the period since the time I first came into this House, it is now impossible to get everything done by means of Questions. The business of the House has changed, and all of us write letters to Ministers. Nine times out of ten I write to Ministers, rather than put Questions on the Order Paper, though it is perfectly true, as I think my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said, that I never knew whether they were privileged or not. I did not know it until this case arose. I knew that that was the ordinary way of doing business in this House.
It is perfectly true that the House may never hear of them, but, years afterwards if some third party was the subject of such a letter, he may hear of some serious accusation which had been made against him, and would never be given the ordinary citizen's right to redress before the courts at the time. That is perfectly true, but I am sure that, so far as the public welfare is concerned, a far greater disservice will be done if we do not accept the Motion now before the House, but accept the Amendment instead. The change of business which has taken place must be borne in mind, and I therefore hope the House will accept the Motion.
Hon. Members should remember that this is not a general matter at all. It is a Motion referring to one particular letter in one particular case in one particular set of circumstances. There has been a whole mass of articles in the Press during the last four or five days suggesting that this will apply generally to everything. That is absolute rubbish. It is perfectly obvious that if one writes a letter to some Minister who has nothing whatever to 275 do with the matter, publishing libels about some third party, one would not be protected, because that would not come within the business of the House. That would be a case of something malicious and one would not expect it to be protected.
In the ordinary business of this House, in the ordinary way, writing letters to Ministers about the business with which they are concerned, cannot be any disadvantage to the public whatever, when it is done by letter and done quietly behind the scenes. I think this is a question of the construction of the Act of Parliament of 1689, which has already been agreed to by the House, and I think the House ought to agree to it again. Therefore, diffident as I am about differing from the views of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, I hope the House will accept the Motion.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray (Berwick and East Lothian)
On a point point of order. With very great respect to the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and to you, Mr. Speaker, may I say a word about the privileges of hon. Members who do not happen to be Privy Councillors? Am I correct in thinking that the last seven, and now it is eight, speakers today have all been Privy Councillors? For what purpose it is that our constituents send us here to sit on the back benches if we never get a chance to speak?
§ Mr. Speaker
Constituents also send the right hon. Gentlemen who are Privy Councillors here. This has been the custom of the House that Privy Councillors have long enjoyed this precedence. I cannot change it.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I very much regret the outburst of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray), because he and I have been in the House for many years, and he knows, just as we are discussing privileges, that those who are senior Members of the House in any respect tend to be called by the Chair, and the hon. Gentleman himself, as a Chairman of Committees, engages in the same procedure. I am a 276 back bencher in this House, and I am going to put my views so long as I am called. I will try to be brief, but I should have thought that today was an occasion when those who have long experience of this House would be welcomed in giving their views.
What we are really discussing now is whether Parliament should bring itself up to date or not. It is not denied for one moment, not even by the Attorney-General, that the Act of 1689 gave us certain rights and privileges. It seems to me that the only thing to be interpreted today is whether we are within our rights in deciding whether a letter written by an hon. Member to a Minister concerning matters within his own Department is privileged or not. Whatever the learned Attorney-General may say, I am bound to say that, although I listened to his speech and explanation with great attention, because it seemed to me to be a very lucid speech, the opinion of the Attorney-General of the day is not necessarily always right. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to challenge some of the views expressed by a predecessor. I think he will agree that today he is in the position of counsel putting a case to a jury. We are the jury today, and it is within our rights to give a verdict.
I therefore suggest that what the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) has just said was merely putting into proper perspective something which is inalienable and inherent in the Bill of Rights, but which, because in those days there were no Questions or Ministers, as we have just heard, Members were unable to put into precise words, such as we are asked to do today. Although I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) that when Members of Parliament write to Ministers, they should put their complaints in circumspect language, I think that in that respect my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) expressed his views in a strong fashion which evidently upset the London Electricity Board.
One point which arises out of this debate is that the whole question which my right hon. Friend put to the Minister at that time has presumably not been investigated and will not be investigated. The mere threat of a writ by the London 277 Electricity Board, which the Committee of Privileges, with the exception of the Attorney-General, said is a Breach of Privilege, has stopped the ventilation and investigation, as far as I know, of a practice which may be against the public interest. We are therefore putting ourselves in the position in Parliament that a matter has been brought to the Minister's attention by a Member, that it is now public property and that the London Electricity Board thinks itself suffering under a libellous statement but has no right whatever, unless it issues a writ, to prove that what my right hon. Friend said is wrong. That is certainly an anomalous position which ought not to be allowed to remain.
I suggest that if we agree with the Motion and the Report of the Committee of Privileges, it should naturally follow that the Minister will be compelled to investigate the complaint which my right hon. Friend brought to his attention about a practice which, for all I know, may still be going on to the detriment of the public interest. What an absurd position for Parliament to put itself in, in spite of the legal arguments which have flowed backwards and forwards across the House.
It may be that the Attorney-General is right, although he is in a minority of one, but Parliament has something more to decide than whether his explanation of the law is right. The only issue is whether we are within our rights to interpret Privilege to include letters written by Members of the House to Ministers concerning matters affecting their Departments. That is the only issue, and I suggest that it is certainly not against the public interest—some newspapers have suggested that it is—if we state that we are within our rights in interpreting the position in that way.
The only question which disturbs some hon. Members—and I am bound to say that it disturbs me—is whether any individual would be suffering an injustice if we said that such a letter written to a Minister is privileged. I do not think that it would be so. What would have been the practical effect if my right hon. Friend's letter had been followed up? The London Electricity Board would have had to go before the Minister or some tribunal set up by the Minister to justify its proceeding, which my right 278 hon. Friend in his letter had said was "a scandal".
If something is a scandal and it is done by a public board, surely it is our duty and right to investigate it. Why should we be denied by some legal quibble—because that is all it is—the opportunity to investigate a scandal, and why should the public authority be denied the opportunity to justify its practice to the public? If we accepted the Attorney-General's opinion, we should be covering up things such as happened in days gone by, just because Parliament did not then fully exercise its rights as we are now suggesting that it should. We should be covering up scandals which were contemptuous and which had been engaged in, unfortunately, by certain Ministers in days gone by, although the public has long since said that it is Parliament's duty to stop them.
That is the only issue which I want to put before the House. When I came into the House today and listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South, I felt that perhaps there was some injustice upon the Chairman of the Board in my right hon. Friend's letter. After listening to the explanation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall of why he wrote that letter, who can deny—indeed, what court would deny if it were taken to court—that he put his complaint to the Minister in the best of good faith? If that gives us qualified privilege in a court of law, although it would be a very expensive way of justifying our privilege by going to a court of law, why should not the same argument hold good in the House of Commons and why should we not accept the point of view which my right hon. Friend has put so ably?
He is a rich man and perhaps can afford to go through the racket of the law court, but he has done his duty in ventilating this case precisely so that Parliament should be forced to give a decision today. It is our duty not to evade that decision, in spite of what the public Press may be saying, and to go ahead and demand today the same rights as the Bill of Rights gave us in 1689.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I wonder what the public outside will say about this debate? We have not heard 279 very much about them. I fancy that they will say that it has been a lawyers' field day and that the discussion has turned on various legal points, some subtle and some less subtle. They may say that it has been a Parliamentarians' field day. Certainly they will say that it has been a very self-centred day.
We cannot do anything successfully in the House, and sustain it indefinitely, without public support, and for that reason I ask the House to bear with me for a few minutes while I put what I believe to be a purely commonsense point of view. It may well be shot down in flames by the lawyers, but I think the public outside will understand it.
There are two issues before the House. The first is, are Members of Parliament justified in their fears that their work will be impeded or interfered with if the words "proceedings in Parliament" do not cover communications to Ministers? I claim that this is a purely commonsense point of view when I ask whether we have suffered in the past. Is there any hon. Member who can say that his political work, or what I would call his welfare work, has been impaired or inhibited by the state of affairs which exists up to the present day? I do not think there is. We have heard from the Attorney-General that there have been only three cases in the last seventy-five years. I know the details of only one of them, when an hon. Member had to leave public life. We therefore cannot go to the public outside and say that we want an extension of our privileges because our work is inhibited and impaired. I think that is aboslutely undeniable.
The second question is, do these words "proceedings in Parliament" include communications to Ministers? I believe that the general public's view will be that those words must be taken to mean what they say they mean. It is no use Members of Parliament pretending that everything we do is a proceeding in Parliament. I maintain that not by the wildest stretch of imagination could our welfare work be called a proceeding in Parliament. Many things are necessary for us to continue our work in Parliament. The reductio ad absurdum is that we must get out of bed and have our breakfast and catch our trains—but nobody would 280 claim that these were proceedings in Parliament.
Why, then, does it follow that a letter to a Minister about a case with which we are dealing must be a proceeding in Parliament? If that were so, surely every letter I write to a director of education or to a housing manager or to a doctor about a constituent is a proceeding in Parliament and can claim exceptional Privilege. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I maintain that it follows. Hon. Members may disagree with me. The qualified privilege which we have in writing to Ministers has so far proved adequate and the public outside will say—and I say it, too—that all the House is seeking to do is to enshrine malice within Privilege. That is how it will come out in the papers tomorrow. The lawyers here may shake their heads, but that is what people will say, and I believe that that is what it is—
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Does the hon. Gentleman say the same of what happens on the Floor of the House? Or how does he draw the distinction?
§ Sir G. Nicholson
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will not get so heated he will hear what I have to say on that. That is what I was intending to deal with next.
I lay it down that for an action of a Member to become a proceeding in this House it must, of course, be undertaken by a Member of Parliament—or by an officer of the House, or perhaps by someone giving evidence in Select Committee or at the Bar of the House—but it must also be something that it is intended shall eventually come into the light of day. We definitely do need a great power of Privilege. We need the Privilege of free speech in this House.
In my next sentence I can say that So-and-so is dishonest in his work, that his wife is immoral and that they are unworthy people. That is open attack, but it is fair enough because they can answer it, and if I am clearly malicious or obviously just a fool saying something that is without foundation, it will recoil on my own head. Our own reputations suffer if we make wrong or unfounded accusations. The public take those risks, and we, as public men and women, take greater risks, and it is fair enough.
281 Does any hon. Member present want me to be able to blast a man's reputation in secret, in a way that never comes to his ear—
§ Sir G. Nicholson
Through the Minister, or anyone else. Does anyone here want me to have that secret power to blast a man's reputation; to be able to say of a schoolmaster that he is unworthy to have charge of small boys, or of a town clerk that he is corrupt? My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) talked about the stigma. For that schoolmaster, or for that town clerk, the slime remains in the files. If I attack a woman's virtue, that stigma remains. That is not fair comment. It is not open attack. It is assassination, from behind, at midnight; and I am convinced that the public at large will say that that is what we are seeking to cover with the cloak of Privilege.
So far I have ventured to express what I consider to be a commonsense view of the facts. I will now venture on an opinion. The good name and repute of this House are dear to us, and rightly, because the future of Parliamentary government in this country and, possibly, elsewhere, depends on the maintenance of that high name and good repute. That, in its turn, largely depends upon the measure in which we identify ourselves with those whom we represent, and profess to govern.
If I may paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, our conception of Parliamentary government is government of ordinary people, for ordinary people, by ordinary people. We are here as ordinary people. There may be a few geniuses amongst us, but I do not think that many of us have been selected for our outstanding qualities—or even for our good looks. We are ordinary people. We must remain ordinary people. The day we attempt to erect ourselves into a privileged caste, that day the reputation of Parliament begins to decline.
It is for that reason that I venture to differ, and to differ profoundly, from the Committee of Privileges. I think that it has exceeded its terms of reference. Today, we heard my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House saying that the Committee thought it desirable—I did not take down his words but they were to 282 this effect—that Parliament's privileges should be extended in this way. He did not use the word "extended", but he implied it. The Committee was composed of able men and honourable men. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ordinary men."] Not ordinary men, no; in this case, extraordinarily stupid men. In this case they have erred most grievously and sadly, and are leading this House into deep and dangerous waters.
Finally, I ask this. If this Motion is carried, are hon. Members prepared to tell their constituents that up to now they have been hampered in their work for their constituents—[Interruption.]
§ Sir G. Nicholson
I ask again: are hon. Members prepared to go to their constituents and say that the only practical effect of their vote this evening will have been to express a wish that absolute privilege should be extended to letters that may be malicious or libellous, or actually are malicious and libellous—[Interruption.]
§ Sir G. Nicholson
I shall not give way—[An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member asked a question."] I shall not give way—I am coming to the conclusion of my speech.
I say that if they are not prepared to do that, they should retrieve the grave error and blunder committed by the Committee of Privileges, and that we should go on as we have done before. For myself, I have served my constituents to the best of my ability, and will continue to do so, and my work for them has never suffered by the existing state of affairs. It is silly to express a wish for a change that will be widely misinterpreted outside. Do not let us minimise the importance of this historic day in Parliament. I fear that it may be fraught with very grave consequences.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
With a great deal of what the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) has said, most surprisingly, I find myself in agreement. First, I agree 283 with him that in so far as Parliamentary Privilege is conceived, either inside the House or outside the House, as a matter of personal status or prestige, it does far more harm to Parliament than good. Personally, if we were to alter Parliamentary Privileges at all, I should be in favour of removing once and for all anything that ennobles, as it were, the status of a Member of Parliament beyond the honour accorded to any of his constituents. The giving of V.I.P. treatment to hon. Members at airports, or even enabling Members in their motor cars to transgress the traffic rules when crossing Bridge Street, are matters that, much as we value them, are not really conducive to the honour in which Parliament is held, or to the convenience of the way in which we do our business.
But Privilege, in the other sense, is vital. By "the other sense". I mean those privileges which we have always claimed and must always defend on the ground that, without them, we cannot properly discharge our functions. In the newspapers and elsewhere, people are talking about the rule of law. Of course, our whole system is based on the rule of law, but the rule of law does not begin in the law courts. The rule of law begins in the House of Commons. That is what we must defend, and that is the first thing on which I agree with the hon. Member.
The other thing about which I agree with him is that we will do very much better, in trying to resolve the issue before us tonight in this House of Commons, by leaving out the antiquarianism—however fascinating—and the legal gymnastics—however skilful. We must look at this purely and simply as a question of common sense, seeing what the position would be on the one interpretation or the other interpretation; what the consesequences would be on the effectiveness of Parliament and on the effectiveness of Members to carry out their job. This is the only test.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman not mistaken? If we come to the conclusion that what is required is that this protection should be given, is not the right way to legislate for it, not try to pretend that it comes within the meaning of existing Privilege?
§ Mr. Silverman
It may or may not be so. If I came to the conclusion that 284 we had not got the Privilege which I think Parliament ought to have, I might be in favour of doing whatever we could to create that Privilege although we had not got it. But if there were some reasonable doubt in the interpretation of an existing Privilege, if, shall I say, an existing Privilege could be almost equally reasonably interpreted in one way or another, then we should not be failing in our duty as Members of the House of Commons in adopting that interpretation—if we can do it without violence to the language of the Privilege itself—which increases the effectiveness of the House of Commons rather than that interpretation which decreases its effectiveness.
The hon. Member for Farnham put his point in exactly the same way. I do not quarrel with him in that, but I differ from his result. In his view, common sense and the opinion of our constituents outside would prefer the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) to the Motion. It is precisely there that I differ from the hon. Gentleman. In my view, common sense is all the other way.
We must say something about the words. Nobody denies that a proceeding in Parliament is completely protected. Nobody wants to change that. What is said is that a letter from a Member to a Minister written in the circumstances of this case is not a proceeding in Parliament. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General was at great pains to repeat that it was not a proceeding in Parliament. I hope that I do not do him any great injustice if I say that he never even attempted to explain why it was not. Why should it not be? It is a proceeding between Members of Parliament. There is no doubt about that. It is a proceeding which takes place only because the Member and the Minister are both Members of Parliament carrying out together, in that proceeding, a Parliamentary duty. There can be no question about that. Therefore, it is a proceeding, and it has to do with Parliament.
It has so much to do with Parliament that the hon. Member for Farnham says that if the thing were attacked in the courts of law outside qualified privilege would be raised. Why should there be a qualified privilege? There would be a 285 qualified privilege only because the two parties to the proceeding had a common interest and a common duty. Without that, there would be no privilege at all, qualified or not. I think that the hon. Gentleman must take it from me that that is the law until a better lawyer corrects me.
§ Sir G. Nicholson
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I appreciate his giving way, particularly since I did not give way very much. Surely, the qualified privilege is precisely that which attaches to any welfare worker, is it not? It is a letter written without malice, without prejudice and without dishonesty, and nothing to do with their both being Members of Parliament. Also, does the hon. Gentleman say that it would be a proceeding in Parliament if it one day did not emerge in Parliament?
§ Mr. Silverman
I will deal with those two points when I come to them, if I may. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not think it discourteous of me if I do not argue the matter with him. I ask him, for a moment, to accept from me that there is no privilege at all in the courts, even qualified privilege, unless the man who claims the privilege can show that he was under some public duty to do the act of which complaint is made.
§ Mr. Silverman
I know that it is only one of them. There may be a common interest which does not involve public duty, but whether one puts this particular proceeding on the basis of there being a common interest because the Member has an interest for his constituents, or whoever has communicated with him, and the Minister has an interest in knowing what is going on, or one puts it on the ground of there being a common duty because a Member of Parliament must do something when a complaint is made to him and the Minister must entertain the complaint if it reaches him, there is a common interest or a common duty which alone provides the qualified privilege in the courts outside.
What is the common interest or common duty? As I said, it is purely a Parliamentary one. It arises out of the Parliamentary duties of both. It seems to me, therefore, that we have established 286 the Parliamentary relationship. We have the proceeding established, and I shall not do what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) just now described as overturning 250 years of Parliamentary tradition in order to attach too much importance to a preposition.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
Will my hon. Friend agree with this? If my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) had said expressly what is implied, that, in the absence of an adequate reply from the Minister, he would raise the matter in the House, there could then be no question that it would be a proceeding in Parliament.
§ Mr. Silverman
That may well be so, but I wanted merely to mention this in passing, because I wanted to approach the matter not as a question of semantics or law but on the common sense of it.
Until this afternoon, unless we had read the documents we have here, we should not have known what my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall had said to the Minister at all. Who told us? My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South read extracts from the letter which will be printed in every newspaper tomorrow. Nobody supposes that the extracts he read out from the letter written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall were not capable of a defamatory meaning. Of course they were. Does anyone think—does my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South think—that it would not be a breach of Privilege if anyone wrote to him tomorrow and threatened him with a writ because he gave publicity to those scandalous and defamatory statements in the House of Commons today? He is, of course, completely protected, and no one thinks that he ought not to be.
As everyone here knows—those of us who have been here a long time, like the hon. Member for Farnham and myself, appreciate it even more than those who came more recently—we receive a voluminous correspondence from all kinds of people, sometimes people in trouble, sometimes people in disputes, sometimes cranks, sometimes people of doubtful sanity. All kinds of communications are made to us, some of them so fantastic that one wonders why anyone 287 took the trouble to write them. But, as we all know from our own experience, the overriding point is that, occasionally, it happens that the most fantastic allegation turns out to be true. Therefore, however fantastic some communication may sound when one receives it, one does not feel—does any hon. Member feel it?—entitled to ignore it, throw it in the wastepaper basket and pretend it did not happen. We have to do something about it. That is our duty, and we must not assume that there is nothing in it merely because it is libellous, merely because it is awkward, merely because it may be the result of some hallucination.
What do we do in such circumstances? So far—I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South—what we have done we have done on the assumption that we were completely protected. We have said, "Shall I give unreasonable publicity to a wild statement of this kind, when there is, perhaps, only one chance in a thousand that there is something in it? Shall I bruit it about all the world by putting a sensational Question on the Order Paper which anyone can read?" I know that if I do that I shall be completely protected. No one can blame me, no one can do anything about it, and no one can write me letters such as those received by my right hon. Friend. But one chooses not to do that. Most of us would regard it as irresponsible to put down every question on the Order Paper, no matter how scandalous it might be in its allegations although not in its actual language. We have preferred to say, "Someone had better look into this to see whether it is right or wrong. Who is the proper person?"
We have said that the proper person is any Minister of the Crown who would be responsible to the House of Commons if the allegation were true. So we write him a letter. It may be that we enclose the constituent's letter or maybe we only summarise it; it does not make any difference for this purpose. If we send the letter with a mere compliment slip we are just as much guilty of defamation, if guilty at all, as if we adopt and vouch for the allegation that is made. But we send it to the Minister only because we are Members of Parliament endeavouring to discharge our duty 288 and because if it is anybody's business to inquire into it it is the Minister's business, and that is as much a proceeding in Parliament as if we put it down on the Order Paper or raised it in a general debate.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman thinks that that is not so. What I am saying is following his own principle of looking at the thing from a common-sense point of view and trying to see pragmatically what is the result of adopting one interpretation or the other, whether the Committee of Privileges' interpretation is more useful and less mischievous than the alternative which is put before us. If the alternative is right and if the Question on the Order Paper is absolutely protected whereas the letter to the Minister is not, then for most of us—who have not got a lot of money and who cannot defend a serious libel action in the courts in the hope that ultimately it may be successful—the choice becomes a very awkward dilemma indeed. Either we must put the Question on the Order Paper, doing all the damage thereby occasioned, or we must decide not to do anything at all about it, burn the letter and pretend that we had never got it at all.
It seems to me that if we have to look at the matter from the point of view of those who claimed the Privilege in the first place, there can be only one answer. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South has never been a Member of Parliament. He has been Leader of the House, deputy Leader of the Opposition, Cabinet Minister and Privy Councillor throughout his membership of the House of Commons. He has never had to consider these questions from the point of view of the ordinary private Member trying to do his job. I am bound to say that it seems to me that if he had to look at these questions in this way he would come to a very different conclusion from the one at which he arrived.
In this period of the twentieth century, when Parliamentary democracy is under a fiercer attack than at any other time in history and when there are many people outside who seem to go out of their way to denigrate Parliament and Parliamentary institutions and all their 289 works, it seems to me that we who are Members of the House of Commons, who are proud of our institutions, and who think that on the whole our political institution does a more effective job than any other political institution that we know of anywhere else in the world, had better vote tonight, not in the sense which will "crib, cabin and confine" the discharge of our duties, but in the sense which will enable us to go on carrying them out free from fear and interference from anybody.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I am sure that I am at least free from the damning success and glory which comes so easily to Lewisham. I want to begin—and I am sorry for the absence of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens)—by saying a word about some of his remarks. I think that I am the last Member of this House who sat on the Select Committee in 1939. I do not suggest that I had any very great influence on its proceedings. It was one of a series of three, as some hon. Members may remember. On the earlier two I did not sit, but a vacancy arose so I sat on the third. I mention that merely to show that I took an interest in the matter. I read those proceedings. I was present at the proceedings of the third sitting. I read the other proceedings not only frequently then but more frequently since.
I wish to begin by protesting against the theory that not only everything which a Select Committee says in deciding a point put to it, but also, apparently—which seems to me very odd coming from a lawyer—everything which a Select Committee says obiter, everything which it quotes without indicating disapproval from any witness, and even what was said by witnesses, is used as if afterwards it bound, or at least formed an almost irrebuttable presumption for the work of, Committees of Privilege later. I think that that is an absolutely fatal doctrine.
It is still more fatal if one takes it with the preconception which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) evidently had in mind. I do not say that to be unkind, because almost all of us have it in our minds almost all the time unless we stop to criticise it. He said that the only test for deciding 290 whether this is a proceeding in Parliament is for one to imagine what Parliament would be like if the answer is, "Yes, it is a proceeding in Parliament," and then to imagine what it would be like when it is not held a proceeding in Parliament, and to compare the two and choose. That is a fatal misunderstanding, I beg permission to say without sounding dogmatic, of the nature of Privilege. That is not what Privilege is.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I did not say what the hon. Gentleman is attributing to me. I said it in those words exactly but, after saying that I wanted to accept the hon. Gentleman's test of common sense, I said that this was the test of common sense, not the test of Privilege.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
But common sense is not the test of whether a thing is privileged or not. But the hon. Gentleman does himself less than justice because he returned to the point a third time at the end of his speech and said that his interpretation ought to be accepted; again I took down his words, because he said, "My interpretation is more useful", which was saying more shortly what he had said at the beginning of his speech. That is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of Privilege, and I hope that no hon. Member will be affected by it.
I want to return to the point about the Select Committee in 1939. I cannot obviously read all the words, but I ask hon. Gentlemen to look carefully at the words—they have been quoted so often—at the bottom of page iv of the so-called fifth Report, which from our point of view is the first Report, and the top of page v. I do not doubt that anyone who reads the words carefully will conclude that none of the words on those two pages—I think they are the main, almost the only ones, on this point which have been quoted today—amounts to saying that any particular bit of business outside the House is or even could be a proceeding in Parliament. It is on every occasion generally in negative and qualified language and very carefully drafted. I will not read each one of the passages over and over again; hon. Members, I think, know that I do not consciously cheat in debate.
To finish that point, we ought not to feel ourselves bound by the Select Committee. The Select Committee was not 291 deciding this point. I am awfully sorry, in the fashionable word—I am not saying this, Mr. Speaker, to denigrate your generosity in calling me at all—but looking back, I do wish I had got in before the Attorney-General, because I was going to bust all those three cases too, which would have sounded much more learned coming from me than from him, because, of course, I am not learned and he is. There is no doubt that those three cases did mislead the Select Committee. I do not blame anybody for it, but they did. I discovered I had been misled, as I still think, some years later, when it was my duty to prepare lectures about Privilege. So much for that: we ought not, I am sure, to be over-impressed by the Select Committee.
Nobody yet—and this, Mr. Speaker, you will agree, I am sure, is unique in our experience of such debates, because always, long before this stage, somebody quotes from Blackstone. Curiously enough, although everybody reads Blackstone, if not every night, at least every Saturday night; everyone always quotes the same sentence and I ought to make an honest woman of this day's debate too, so I will now quote it. Blackstone wrote:The dignity and independence of the two Houses are in great measure preserved by keeping their privileges indefinite.Tongue a little in the cheek, I think, but this was six or seven generations ago—If all the privileges of parliament were set down and ascertained, and no privilege to be allowed but what was so defined and determined, it were easy for the executive power to devise some new case, not within the line of privilege, and under pretence thereof to harass any refractory member and violate the freedom of Parliament.That is part of the tradition, and it still goes on. We had the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) uprearing the sacred oriflamme and drawing the bright sword, and we have had several other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen today going through the same kind of pantomime. All this was fair enough when the House of Commons was a weak institution and the individual Member in it was a lobster without a shell and was standing up to fight against the Crown and the Lords. And even if very often looking back they used false arguments, very often they won when at the moment 292 of clash history and law was not on their side at the time; they won because they had a particular kind of courage and because at critical moments they had the most power. Well, you may like or dislike them. You may wish that somebody would throw Oliver Cromwell's bust into the river. When I show children round, I always offer 6d. to anyone who will push it off the pedestal and break it. But, whatever you think about that, heroism was respectable enough once.
Now it is the most ludicrous humbug. Now the House of Commons is all the legal power there is in this poor country. Fifty-one per cent. of the House of Commons at any moment can decide what is law and what is not law, what shall be Privilege and what shall cease to be Privilege; and I think we ought to give up that stuff. And I think that when you are as powerful as we now are, care for your dignity is tyrannous besides looking silly, and I do not think we ought to bother very much more about our dignity now when we discuss this subject.
Either this time or next there will be a writ; there may still be this time. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) talked about what might have been a useful investigation being stopped; what may have been a crying scandal, by the raising of Privilege, or the breach of Privilege. But if I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall aright, he said quite the contrary, that he was satisfied with the action taken by the Paymaster-General. Yet it still remains true that there still may be this time a writ issued.
Then the argument has been used that at the revolution time when the Bill of Rights was passed, if there had been Parliamentary Questions then, that they then would certainly have regarded conversations or exchanges of letters preliminary to Parliamentary Questions as being Parliamentary proceedings. That argument has been used and hon. Members will recognise it. It seems to me perfect nonsense. First of all, it is purely hypothetical; secondly, we know, in fact, very little about Questions in those days. It is true there was not a system of Question Hour, but what Questions were asked and what people thought were preliminaries to them, are matters on which we are wholly ignorant, and the 293 House then, at least legally speaking, sat in secrecy.
But the crushing argument is that there certainly was Bill procedure if there were not formal Parliamentary Questions. But nobody ever said that exchanges of conversations or of letters preliminary to Bill procedure were themselves proceedings in Parliament. That, so far as I know, was never said. There was no such carrying back of Privilege to the preliminary communications.
Then I want to have a few words—leaving out several things, hon. Members will be glad to know—about the word "Proceedings." I chased proceedings a bit in the dictionary, and as far as I can gather from chasing proceedings in the dictionary and from cross-examining my ordinary friends, either in drawing rooms or four-ale bars, proceeding necessarily has always had something of formality about it, and it is presumptuous to say that, of course, a letter of this sort was a proceeding. I am not at all certain that is true, and a presumption is raised against it. As has been said—this is, I hope, my only repetition—we should all be surprised if anything in the Votes and Proceedings in this House contained any of the matters, or anything referring to any of the matters, which we are discussing today.
If hon. Members will look at the Report from the Committee of Privileges they will see what a tangle the Committee gets in over the word "proceeding". [An HON. MEMBER: "What page?"] The only page—page 3. I am quoting—I suppose I am in order—… Mr. Strauss was engaged in a 'proceeding in parliament'"—when he wrote the letter; but they say that the London Electricity Board when it wrote the letters was not engaged in a proceeding. It wrote the letters threatening to commence a proceeding. It seems an odd distinction. Then, at the end of the page, we see "no proceedings have been taken". [Laughter.] I can honestly say I see nothing funny about this. These were the most respected persons, most meticulously choosing their language. They produce in the end, in my judgment, a proposition which is nonsense, and it is the fortunate custom arranged by Providence that when people produce what is either in feeling or in 294 logic nonsense, they generally fall into verbal nonsense too. Those people did it.
At the bottom of that page, "proceedings" means something different and is there plainly a reference to legal proceedings intended and likely to result in a judicial decision. Anyone reading the Report will see quite plainly that that is the meaning at the end. The Committee has been tangled in complete nonsense by its determination to say that something which was obviously not in Parliament and obviously not a proceeding was a proceeding in Parliament. Thus, in this very short Report we get uses of the word "proceeding" of which at least two out of three are plainly indefensible.
There is also this to be said about proceedings. If the letter of 8th February was a proceeding and covered by Privilege, then I should very much like to know whether the rest of the correspondence was in the same position. Were the letters written by the other people also privileged? Were they or were they not, because we cannot make sense of the thing unless we know that? Was it a proceeding when people answered, and were the conversations preliminary to the letters covered?
People have talked about the differences between this and a discussion on the Floor of the House, and some differences have been pointed out, but one which has not been pointed out is that on the Floor of the House whatever is covered for the party of the first part is also covered for the parties of the second, third, and fourth and any other part which may be included. That is of immense importance.
It is no use the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South telling us that we are here engaged not on the general matter but only on the small point of whether the letter of 8th February was a proceeding. It is no use his telling us that when all the rest of his speech was praying in aid, as if there were in the decision by an ultimate court on an exact question, all the obiter dicta of the Select Committee of 1939. We have to be just as careful as he thinks that Committee ought to have been, not only to make a right decision, but to ensure that nothing appears in any of the documents or in the debate that can be used settling wider questions in the way he tried this afternoon to use the incident of 1939.
295 I have a great deal more to say, but I will be merciful, and I will conclude by saying only this. Privilege cannot be created and that has been its essence for a very long time indeed. One cannot say that it would be infra dig. and beneath our dignity as one of the Houses of Parliament to proceed by statute to make Privileges what we want them to be and that we must do it by ipse dixit, by passing a single Resolution. We cannot do that, because every speech I have heard today and every letter I have seen in the Press, I think, has been based on the statutory force either of Strode's case or the Bill of Rights, or both.
When the whole case has been based on those things, hon. Members cannot turn round afterwards and say, "We are great and strong and we shall do it by mere Resolution, and we must not be asked to go about crawling in that weak-kneed way which even the House of Lords can follow." Hon. Members have no excuse now, if this thing must be done, for persuading themselves, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne did, that this is a good thing which can therefore be done by Resolution. If hon. Members do it by Resolution just because it is a good thing, they will be consciously dishonest and making conscious doubts of the honesty of all their Parliamentary ancestors.
I am not sure about this, but somebody should tell us—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is not sure about anything."] I have asserted nothing as dead sure which I am not prepared to prove. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] And I think have argued nothing which I have not at least equally tended to prove as compared with similar propositions made today. Is it not the normal presumption—I think that this is right, and I have never heard it challenged—that in this kind of matter where individual Members are concerned, that Privileges which we have here are held in the House of Lords? Is it suggested that it is, and always has been, a Parliamentary proceeding for peers to write this kind of letter to Ministers, and is it intended that that always shall be in the future? Hon. Members should know the answer.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)
The immediate issue which is raised by the two 296 Reports of the Committee of Privileges and by the Amendment turns on a very narrow question of construction. The debate raises a very much larger question and the way in which each of us will vote must depend on the view which we each hold of the general scope and purpose of Parliamentary Privilege.
There appear to be two schools of thought, one expressed in the draft Report of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) to the Committee of Privileges when he said that Parliament hada duty to itself and to the subsequent Parliaments to defend and protect its Privileges.The other school of thought, to which I belong, is that although some degree of Privilege is essential to the working of our Parliamentary institution, we ought to try to keep it within the narrowest possible limits.
We have had a number of definitions, but no one has yet given a definition of the word "privilege". I have taken the most extensive definition which I have been able to find in the dictionary and which is:A right, advantage or immunity granted to or enjoyed by a person or class of persons beyond the common advantage of others.Privilege always involves not merely the assertion of one's own right, but the invasion or denial of somebody else's right.
I want to make this point particularly to my hon. Friends on this side of the House. For about 300 years the Leftwing parties in this country, Liberals in their Radical days and, more latterly, the Labour Party, have been engaged in a struggle against one form or another of privilege. There was the privilege of the Established Church—
§ Mr. Foot
—which kept Non-conformists and Roman Catholics outside the House of Commons, universities and public offices. There was the privilege which was conferred by the ownership of property and which for a long time restricted the franchise to those who had a certain income, or who owned property to a certain value. There was the privilege claimed by religious believers when we prevented Bradlaugh from taking the oath or affirming when elected as Member for Northampton.
297 In more recent years, there has been the long struggle with the House of Lords, when we attacked the privilege which attached to persons of noble birth. Indeed, only today my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) introduced a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule attacking another form of privilege, the claim of privilege which is inherent whenever anyone seeks to set up a colour bar.
Here again we have a claim of Privilege. Let me say in passing that I make no kind of reflection upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and I am certain that he acted from the highest sense of public duty. However, if he had not been a Member of Parliament, nobody doubts for a moment but that the Board could have brought and pursued an action against him for libel.
§ Mr. Woodburn
My hon. and learned Friend has given examples of privilege. However, is not it the case that there is no suggestion that Members of Parliament should have personal privilege? Is not it the case that Privilege is to enable them to do their duty to their constituents and to the public?
§ Mr. Foot
I was about to come to that, and I will deal with it shortly.
The point I was trying to make is this. No one doubts that if my right hon. Friend had not been a Member of this House an action could have been taken against him. Whether the action would have succeeded is another matter on which none of us can express any opinion. That means that, if we adopt this Report, we are seeking—whether we succeed or not is another matter—to deny to the Board an extremely important right, the right of access to the courts.
It would be very easy to give other examples. If, for example, we summon, as has been done, an editor or printer to appear at the Bar of the House for something which he has written—something which may be perfectly lawful judged by the standard of the ordinary law—we are invading the rights of the person who is summoned. I think that everyone would agree that we ought to be very jealous in protecting the rights and liberties of individual citizens. That is what all of us are returned here to do and we ought to be extremely careful before we start invading them ourselves.
298 I know that it will be said—and I now come to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn)—that the Privilege of Parliament is the privilege of the citizen. I think that that was once true. It was true in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when this House needed to be protected against the Crown. It has by no means been true throughout the whole course of Parliamentary history. When we come to the eighteenth century we find example after example where this particular instrument of Privilege which had been used for the protection of this House became an instrument for the oppression of the public. There have been any such number of cases.
In a previous debate I reminded the House of the case in 1771 when we summoned the Lord Mayor of London for doing his duty as a magistrate and committed him to the Tower of London. It would be easy to go on multiplying examples. There have been many occasions when claims of Privilege have been made and asserted and have added very little to the dignity of this House.
Now here today we are in fact exercising a judicial function. We are seeking to interpret a Statute. Here I agree—I do not always agree with him—with the Attorney-General. There is a very real danger that in so doing we may be declaring not what the law is but what we would like it to be. I have discussed this matter, as we all have, with my hon. Friends in different parts of the House. Again and again, I have been met with this argument. An hon. Member says, "It is part of my business as a Member of Parliament to write a large number of letters to Ministers. It would be intolerable if I might find myself subjected to a libel action in respect of those letters."
That is an argument with which, of course, we can all sympathise. My constituents write to me in large numbers—when they are not engaged in writing to the Soviet Embassy—and we can all see how embarrassing a succession of actions might be. My submission on that is this is irrelevant to what we have to decide.
We all listened with sympathy to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). He sketched an imaginary action which a Member might be called upon to defend. He described what might 299 happen if a Member was successful in defending an action and pointed out, as is undoubtedly true, that on taxation he would probably recover only one-half or two-thirds of the costs he had incurred. All that may be perfectly true, but I suggest to hon. Members that we ought to put that sort of consideration right out of our minds. It has nothing whatever to do with what we have to decide.
We are here in a judicial capacity today, and we have to apply our minds to the question of what the Statute means and not what we think it ought to mean. I agree with what has been said by one or two speakers in this debate—that if we are of the opinion that communications from Members to Ministers ought to be protected in all circumstances, then we ought to legislate for that purpose and we should not seek to do by Resolution in this House today what 200 years ago we declared we would never do, and had no power to do, and that is extend our own Privileges.
This is a question of construing a Statute and it seems to me there can be little, if any, doubt what was meant by the authors of the Bill of Rights when they used the phrase, "Debates or proceedings in Parliament". They were concerned with interference by the Crown and I imagine that they had in mind particularly the case of Sir John Eliot who died in the Tower as a victim of Royal vengeance for the words he had spoken in this House.
There had been a long struggle between this House and the Crown in which this House could always claim complete immunity from any kind of punitive action on the part of the Crown for words spoken in our debates. That is what they were thinking about in 1688–9 and they certainly had not in mind a communication addressed by a Member to a Minister about the board of a nationalised industry.
Some hon. Members seem to think that we are entitled, simply because we wish it so, to attach a new meaning to the words, "proceedings in Parliament". When Lord Atkin gave his famous dissenting judgment in the 18.B case in the House of Lords, he quoted a passage from "Through the Looking Glass", a quotation which seems to me to be equally apt in this case. It was: 300'When I use a word,' Humpty-Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'The question is.' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.''The question is,' said Humpty-Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all'.Those of us who have put our names to the Amendment have done so because we dislike the Humpty-Dumpty approach to Parliamentary Privilege.
I suggest that we can test the matter in this way. Even if we pass this Motion, that does not necessarily put an end to an action by the Board against my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall and it certainly does not put an end to future actions when the same questions may be raised.
Suppose that the Board were to proceed with its action, or that the same issue were to arise in some future litigation, and suppose that this House, rather unwisely I would think, were to summon the offenders to the Bar of this House and call upon them to show cause why they should not be committed for contempt of the House. They might very well say, "We are advised that, on a true construction of the Bill of Rights, this is not a breach of Privilege at all and we desire to be heard in support of that proposition. After all, we have never been heard so far. We have never been given an opportunity of appearing before the Committee of Privileges and we were not given an opportunity of appearing at the Bar and stating our case during the debate of 8th July, 1958, but we want to argue the matter now."
What would the House do then? There are two courses which we could take. Either we could say "Very well, we will allow you to argue the matter now", or we could say, "No, this is all prejudged by the Resolution passed by the House on 8th July. We cannot go into the substance of the case at all. You can only be here to plead in mitigation of what we have already decided is your offence."
§ Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)
How does this differ from the consequence of asserting absolute Privilege when a Member speaks in the House?
§ Mr. Foot
I am not dealing with a speech made in the House. I am dealing 301 with someone summoned to the Bar who has offended against the law of Parliamentary Privilege. I say that the issue has been prejudged and cannot be argued at all.
If we were to adopt the first course it would mean that our proceedings today would be a sheer futility; merely a tentative conclusion. We should have to reconsider the whole matter again. If we were to adopt the second course, it would be a gross and flagrant injustice, because it would mean that offenders would never have an opportunity of being heard upon the substance of their defence.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
How does this differ in any way from the case of a person who has offended against one of the long-established privileges of Parliament? I am not necessarily dissenting from the argument; I have not yet made up my mind, but I cannot see what point the hon. and learned Member is on.
§ Mr. Woodburn
So far as I follow my hon. and learned Friend's case it is that proceedings in Parliament were defined as protecting Parliament against the King, and that therefore they should not be extended except by legislation. If we accept his submission in that regard, what happens to Questions and everything else that happens in Parliament that was not thought of at the time to which he has referred? Would not they equally be ruled out until we pass new legislation?
§ Mr. Foot
In my submission it is quite clear that when Parliament passed the Act of 1689 it was thinking of proceedings—whatever they might be—which took place within the Chamber itself. It was thinking of words spoken in debate, and all the other proceedings in the House. What it almost certainly had in mind was the question of petitions. In those days, when petitioners came to this House they were heard in person, or through counsel, and they would also have been protected under the Bill of 302 Rights. I suppose that Parliament at that time also had in contemplation anything said or done in the course of the actual proceedings of the House. But what it certainly did not contemplate was something outside the House altogether, such as a communication between a Member and a Minister of a type which did not then exist.
I listened with a great deal of sympathy to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who expressed in words with which we would all agree the pride which we feel at being Members of this House. Whether we support the Motion or the Amendment, we are all here to uphold the dignity and prestige of the House of Commons. This is undoubtedly the greatest deliberative assembly in the world. Every one of us takes great pride in being here, and every Member who has been here for any length of time—whether his experience is recent or, as in my case, not quite so recent—can remember occasions when the House has risen to the height of its great argument.
I have two particularly vivid recollections. One is of a Saturday night—on 2nd September, 1939—when, after Mr. Chamberlain had spoken, Mr. Arthur Greenwood rose at the Dispatch Box and Mr. Amery, from the other side of the House, called out "Speak for England." My other recollection is of a debate which some other hon. Members will recall very clearly—the Norway debate, when we had a three-day discussion and a Division in the House, and when, by its proceedings, I believe that the House changed the whole course of history.
Those were two great occasions. But there are also the petty occasions, and those occasions are very apt to occur when the House insists on standing on its dignity and in so doing goes a fair way to losing it. I believe that we are in danger of doing that in the vote tonight. We have to have Parliamentary Privilege up to a certain point, but do not let us convey the impression outside that, as Members of Parliament, we regard ourselves somehow as a class apart, and not subject to the ordinary liabilities of British subjects. It is for these reasons that I hope the Amendment will be carried.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
In supporting the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), I want to be very brief, because I adopt his argument, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has set out very fully and clearly what I believe to be the most convincing reason for it. I want to devote a few moments to a very respectful criticism of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens). I am sorry that he is not present in the Chamber, but I hope that I am not in any way going to be rude to him but merely criticise his approach.
In so doing, I find myself in very close agreement with the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. Foot). I think he put his finger on the mistake that was made by the Committee of Privileges when he pointed out that the Committee had not applied itself to the relevant question, which was the meaning of the Bill of Rights. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General explained, that is the only subject which can be relevant in this connection, because it is essential to construe the words of the Bill of Rights. And when we have construed them, the House must make its decision, if it is to act, as he said, respectably and honourably. As has been pointed out to the House, many years ago it was declared that we would not extend our privileges; and to say that we are not extending them but simply interpreting them if we are introducing an entirely new conception is something that just is not right or honest for us to do.
It is easy for anyone to say that surely we ought to have a certain privilege, but that is not the subject before us today. Once we appreciate that, I do not believe that sufficient care and attention has been given to what may be the result of making what I venture to suggest—in agreement with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South—would be an entirely erroneous construction of an Act of Parliament.
Suppose for a moment that I am right in saying that it is completely wrong, as a matter of law, to construe the Act of Parliament as covering this particular letter under the words, "proceedings in Parliament." Suppose the matter comes before the courts—as it can; no one can 304 stop it coming—and the courts—as I am perfectly certain my right hon. and learned Friend was right in saying they would, and I say the same—hold that this letter was not a proceeding in Parliament. Is the position to be a direct clash between this House and the law courts on a point on which every lawyer would agree that this House is wrong? Is that a desirable thing? Apparently, some hon. Members opposite think that it is a good prospect, but people all over the country would regard it as a very dangerous thing to do.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I do not think my right hon. and learned Friend was in his place when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) made his speech. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South is also a lawyer of some eminence, and he takes a different view from that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald).
§ Sir L. Heald
I have referred to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South, and I am pointing out that I think he is wrong. He is an eminent lawyer and a very good friend of mine, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) would know, were he a member of the legal profession, that does not prevent one of us from saying that the other is wrong and sometimes one is right.
At any rate, if I may return to this matter, here we are in the immaculate position—which may not be quite so immaculate—of having ourselves asserted as a Privilege something which the courts say is nonsense.
Let us suppose for a moment that the courts say that. What happens to those who are engaged in that proceeding, the solicitors and barristers who are engaged in a case which the Lord Chief Justice says is wrong and is not a proceeding in Parliament? What are those hon. Members opposite, who were laughing at me just now, going to say then? Are the barristers and solicitors to be brought before the House and put in the Clock Tower? Of course not. What would happen? Parliament would be brought into ridicule.
305 Let us take the common-sense view about this, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) asked us to do. I say it is absurd to suggest that the courts will take any other view, and I say so for these reasons. It must be assumed, if the argument is to stand on its legs for a moment, that the words "proceedings in Parliament" are capable of more than one construction, and there is the question of construing them in what light. It has been said that they may be construed in any way we like. But we have to construe words of an Act of Parliament on certain principles, and when it is a question of whether we have to construe them widely or narrowly, we have to construe them on what may be presumed to be the intention of Parliament when a particular Act was passed.
Is it to be presumed that these words were meant in a wide or in a narrow sense? Are they to be presumed to be read in the sense that people are to be brought before the Bar of the House, without any chance of defending themselves, and be sent, without any appeal to any other court, without any limit of time, to the Clock Tower? Is it not reasonable to interpret them in the narrowest way necessary for the purpose of enabling us to do our work? That is the view which I say that the courts would take, and I have no doubt about it at all—
§ Sir L. Heald
I am sorry. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) is an old friend of mine, but he must know that he cannot impose himself in that way—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I promised to be brief, and I know from experience that if I allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to intervene no one could be brief.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
It is a very dogmatic speech which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making.
§ Sir L. Heald
The other point on which I venture to differ strongly from my right hon. and learned Friend the 306 Member for Kensington, South is this. He said that we are only dealing with one case today, a single case, and therefore it does not really matter what we do from that point of view. I put it exactly the other way round. All we are asked to decide today is where this particular letter was written. If we vote for the Amendment, as I am going to do—and I hope that the great majority of the House will do the same—all we are saying is that a letter, written in the circumstances in which the right hon. Member for Vauxhall wrote it, is not privileged. We are not saying by that decision that there are not circumstances in which a Member of Parliament, writing about a matter on behalf of one of his constituents, in the House in the ordinary way, has not got a privilege. That is a matter which will have to be decided in the future, and I see no reason at all why we may not have a case where the answer would be a different one. So, for heaven's sake, do not let us say that it does not matter which way it goes; because if we decide that there is Privilege, we are opening the door enormously widely. If we decide there is not, we are not closing the door, and I hope that will be taken into account.
As regards giving a definition, I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) about the difficulty, the impossibility and the undesirability of giving an actual definition of what is a "proceeding" and what is not. I listened to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne on that point, and I must say that the conclusion I reached was that, on his definition certainly, if two Members of Parliament played in the Parliamentary golf handicap they would be taking part in a proceeding in Parliament.
I promised that I would not speak for long, and I have spoken for longer than I intended. I urge hon. Members to deal with this matter on the basis of the Motion and the Amendment before us and not to try to legislate by resolution.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
After reading the leading article in one of our leading journals this morning I can readily agree with the heading of it, which was "A grave issue." But as I read the article, I found that even this newspaper, great and responsible as 307 it is, had been, I submit, guilty of what is really misrepresentation of the true nature of this debate. We are not now discussing the merits of extending or enlarging Parliamentary Privilege. Hon. Members on both sides of the House in this debate, which cuts across party, are agreed that the Bill of Rights of 1688 contains all the basic rights which the House and its individual Members need for discharging their duty without fear of persecution.
Now, after something like a year in which this matter has been under discussion, we are engaged in the last act—at least, I hope it will be the last act—in an investigation to see whether a particular action by someone, that is to say, the London Electricity Board, does or does not constitute an infringement of those basic rights; in that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), arising out of an action which it was his Parliamentary duty to perform, was threatened with legal proceedings. That is the matter we are discussing, and whether that is or is not a breach of our Parliamentary Privilege.
Of course, the crux of the whole matter, as has been mentioned many times in this debate, rests on the interpretation of the phrase, "proceedings in Parliament." After reading all the evidence tendered to the Committee of Privileges, as well as the Report of the Committee itself, I have not the least doubt that they were right in coming to the view without equivocation that, in fact, a breach of Privilege had been committed in that letter written in good faith in the discharge of his Parliamentary duties about a public matter or a constituency matter was a proceeding in Parliament.
I am supported in that view, as all other hon. Members should have been who read the Report of the Committee of Privileges, by the fact that the only evidence which it received all pointed to the fact that the words "proceeding in Parliament" as interpreted, not extended, in modern usage, included the writing by an hon. Member of a letter to a Minister. Not only did the present chief officer of the House on the procedural side, the Clerk of the House, say that in evidence, but he cited, and it has been put into the Report itself, the 308 opinion of the late Lord Campion, who was of the same view. He considered that Parliamentary Privilege, as appertaining to individual Members, was not restricted to the actual proceedings within the Palace of Westminster in which we have our House of Commons.
Now a word about the Amendment, and about its principal sponsor, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). He is a great Parliamentarian, and a former Leader of the House for six busy years. With regard to the rights of private Members, enjoyed in exercising their duties in the House, I do not think it would be accurate to describe the period of the right hon. Gentleman's leadership as remarkable for conserving the right of individual Members against the ever-encroaching power of the Executive.
What would happen if the House were to pass the Amendment, and what consequences would flow from such a decision? The passing of the Amendment would deprive hon. Members of some of the protection and of a particular immunity which they enjoy and which already exists in the Bill of Rights which, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has said, is enshrined in the law. I believe and declare that there is no question before the House tonight of erecting a new privilege. The question is whether or not we have that privilege now. I say without qualification that I believe we have it. I therefore come to the conclusion that if the House were to pass the Amendment and reject the Motion it would not, as has been rightly said, be legislating or changing the law, but would be setting up a powerful precedent which would govern future considerations and would have the effect of diminishing in practice the scope of that enjoyment of the Bill of Rights that at present we all have as Members of the House of Commons.
It would have a second effect, by applying a direct negative to the principal findings of the Committee of Privileges. After some few years as a Member of the House I consider it is a serious step for the House, upon the Report of a Committee arrived at by so substantial a majority, to offer a direct negative to the Committee's findings. It would undoubtedly imply lack of confidence in the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen—most of them were 309 right hon. Gentlemen—who composed the Committee. It would also imply lack of confidence in the work of the Committee which we elect every Session for the express purpose of looking into these matters and whose findings are so closely identified with the evidence tendered at the inquiry.
This evidence was based upon Erskine May, whose writings are fortified and kept up to date by the chief officers of the House, who give their lives in the service of the House studying that subject. I find myself unable to accept by way of an alternative that the purely legal or legalistic definition which it is sought to apply to the Bill of Rights should carry more weight with a working House of Commons concerned with practical problems in a changing situation over the years. I believe that those problems in the long run can only be decided by hon. Members themselves by their votes in the House of Commons.
A third effect of passing this Amendment would be that upon individual hon. Members. Reference has been made to the letter by Sir Hartley Shawcross in The Times today. Not being a lawyer, I do not want to attempt to say anything about qualified privilege, which I confess I had never heard of until this present controversy opened up a few days ago. However that may be, I want to add my word to those who have spoken from the point of view of the ordinary private Member. The fact that it has now arisen in the case of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) after a great number of years does not mean that this situation could not arise again quite shortly.
A situation could arise in which an hon. Member of modest personal resources might find himself, as a result of Parliamentary action taken in good faith, pitted against the bottomless reserves of a great corporation. Much is said about the value of deterrents, but if there is one deterrent which might act upon hon. Members who simply could not afford the risk of such expenditure it would be the deterrent effect of heavy personal costs being incurred which would not wholly—although I admit would in part if he won his case—be reimbursed by the judge in awarding costs.
There is the effect upon the opportunities of hon. Members to look into the 310 affairs, particularly, of nationalised industries. Here I am bound to refer to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. I do so because he must be regarded as the chief architect of the type of legislation which translated the operation of nationalisation into law. I think he is closely identified with those processes under which in questioning the cost of any nationalised industries Members have found themselves severely handicapped as a result of a Ruling which a disdistinguished late occupant of the Chair, Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown, gave in April, 1948, when he ruled that Questions on nationalised industries could not be accepted at the Table.
Undoubtedly, if we pass this Amendment tonight it will be regarded as sealing up altogether a possible avenue which, maybe, another Committee on nationalised industries is at present exploring to see whether hon. Members could not have a better chance and opportunity than they have now on behalf of their constituents of looking into the affairs of nationalised industries.
I come to the right course which the House ought to take. The threat of proceedings has been withdrawn. I can only surmise why the London Electricity Board's solicitors have advised that course. I will not pursue that matter further. At this stage the House should not needlessly provoke a direct conflict with the general machinery of the law in the Royal Courts of Justice. Forttunately, the Committee of Privileges, in its wisdom, has recommended that the House should take no further action. I subscribe to that and give my support, not only to its first Report, but also to its second Report in which it recommends that course.
Finally, can the matter be left there—the general question of privileges? I believe that this debate, whatever may be the decision to which the House comes tonight, will be found to show that hon. Members do need the protection which I believe they at present actually enjoy and always have enjoyed in writing letters to Ministers, and that these letters are, in fact, actually privileged. But I should like to suggest that one alteration in the procedure of the Committee of Privileges itself should be considered.
311 At present, an outside person or corporation being complained of by an hon. Member of this House, if Mr. Speaker can give his decision that there is a prima fade breach of Privilege and the case is sent to the Committee of Privileges, has no right to appear before the Committee. I humbly submit that the House would be well advised at an early opportunity to look into this procedure, to consider whether a person so named should not have an absolute right to make his defence before the Committee of Privileges and also to employ counsel to assist him in so doing.
On the issue that is now before us, I say with all the force at my command that I believe that the House will be failing in its duty to the ordinary people whom we as Members represent if it fails tonight to keep intact this basic charter of liberties. It should, therefore, reject the Amendment, and give its support to the Motion moved by my right hon. Friend.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
I hesitate to impose on the House another speech from a Privy Councillor, but, as a Member of the Committee of Privileges who is not a lawyer, I should like to take the opportunity of explaining why I took the majority view in this matter and why I therefore support the Motion moved by the Leader of the House in an admirable speech.
The case was very well put by him, and it was supported in a series of excellent speeches by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) and a number of other hon. Members, including, in particular, the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew).
As has been said several times, the real issue is comparatively narrow, but extremely important. It is whether the letter of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) to the Paymaster-General is to be treated as a proceeding in Parliament, but there is no denying the fact that the argument in this House, and perhaps still more in the Press, has gone a great deal wider than that. I should like to begin by referring to one or two of these wider issues in order to try, as far as I can, 312 to clear out of the way any difficulties which may still exist.
Some hon. Members have expressed anxiety in the course of their speeches that the House of Commons was getting altogether too sensitive about its Privileges, and I believe myself that some of the articles written in the Press have been inspired, perhaps not so much by consideration of this particular case, as by a recollection of certain occasions in the past, when the House, in support of the Committee of Privileges, has objected to comments made upon Parliament by the Press. It is not our business today to have regard to that, and it seems to me perfectly logical, for instance, to take the view, as one might, that perhaps the House has been a little sensitive on these matters of our collective views, and yet feel that, in this particular matter, it would be a mistake if the House did not protect the parliamentary Privileges of the individual Member.
In the second place, it has been suggested in a number of speeches, first, that the protection of Privilege is not needed in this instance or, indeed—for that is the implication of the argument—in any case and, secondly, that the protection of privilege is illusory because the courts can proceed to handle the matter, writs can still be issued and we may therefore find ourselves in the last resort without the protection which we expect. It seems to me that that argument also applies not only to this instance, but, if one considers it for a moment, even to speeches or Questions in the House.
May I say a word or two first upon the argument that the protection of Privilege is not needed? That was brought out most clearly in the letter of Sir Hartley Shawcross in The Times yesterday. In effect, he said to Members of Parliament, "Do not worry, because if you are not activated by malice and you are taken to court, there will be no danger of losing the case and there is, therefore, no reason for all this fuss about Privilege." I am bound to say that there is a difference of attitude on this question between many lawyers and most of the rest of us.
I think that many lawyers—and it is very understandable—have a very natural view that people should go to law. They cannot see that there is anything unusual about it. My hon. and learned Friend 313 the Member for Leicester. North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) says that it may be very beneficial. I would not impute any motive to them, but I think it is simply part of their lives in a sense that it is not part of the lives of the rest of us.
I feel very strongly that if hon. Members are to be unhampered in the exercise of their duties they must be able to feel not merely that they will win a case if it is brought, but that they do not have to fight a case at all. The argument that as long as one is not malicious one will win under qualified privilege is, therefore, not one which we can take seriously. In any event, it is an argument which could be, and I suppose has been, used against the whole of Privilege, even Privilege in the matter of speaking in the House.
The second argument is that the protection of Privilege is useless and that the courts will go their own way. This is perfectly true. There is a whole chapter of Erskine May devoted to it, and the history of the occasional clashes between the Legislature and the courts is set out in detail. None of us for one moment wishes to deny the rights of the courts to interpret Privilege as they think fit.
It seems to me, however, that we have reached a stage in our constitutional law where these parallel lines of action and activity are well established. Though the courts can handle these cases, or believe they can, and place their own interpretations upon them, equally Parliament asserts not only that there are Parliamentary Privileges, but that it has the right of interpreting those Privileges in any particular instance. I think that it would be a bold step for the House or the Committee of Privileges to depart from such a well-established practice.
I thought that the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), who warned us of the danger of a clash with the courts, carried his argument a little too far. He said, in effect. that we ought to leave the courts to interpret the doctrine of Privilege. As I have said, that would be a wide departure from our previous practice. Nor do I feel that this argument was very well founded. Surely the right course for us to pursue is to make up our minds as to what we think is the correct interpretation of Privilege. Then we certainly hope that there 314 will be no clash with the courts, but if there is disagreement, we shall have to consider the situation when it arises.
In fact, I think it would be fair to say that throughout our history the courts, in coming to any conclusions, have tended to take into account, at any rate, what has been said in the House of Commons, and certainly, what has been resolved by the House of Commons. In the same way, the Committee of Privileges and the House have also had in mind the danger of a clash, and have, therefore, frequently refrained from pressing matters to a conclusion. I would urge that we should continue that practice, and not abandon our right of interpretation.
However, as has already been said, the real question is the application of the Bill of Rights to modern conditions, but its application also, if I may say so, in the light of previous decisions of this House. Over the years, there has, so to speak, been built up a case law, and that has to be taken into account. In considering these matters one is confronted, first of all, with the right hon. and learned Attorney-General's argument that this is really, to use his words, "just a question of fact"—was my right hon. Friend's letter a proceeding in Parliament or not?
With great respect to the Attorney-General, I do not believe that we can simply dismiss it as a question of fact. In my opinion, there is bound to be a problem of interpretation here—
§ The Attorney-General
With respect, what I said was that the meaning to be attached to the words "proceedings in Parliament" was a question of law.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
No, with respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he said that it was a question of fact, but if he takes the view that it is a question of law, I must say that his view is not shared by all his learned colleagues. His right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South took a different view, and so did the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. In 1939 the then Attorney-General—Lord Somervell as he now is—certainly gave an interpretation different from that which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given, although that interpretation was not, of course, concerned with this particular case.
315 Although, naturally, we must pay very great heed to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to say, and to his advice, I know that he will not accuse me of discourtesy if I remind the House that he took a very strong view on the application of the 1770 Act. He believed with great sincerity, and argued with great force in the Committee, that, in any case, that Act really debarred us from considering the matter further. His argument, however, was by no means accepted by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which, in fact, destroyed it, if I may say so, by using exactly the argument used by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and by the Clerk of the House during the proceedings in the Committee. As laymen, we cannot fail to take this kind of thing into account.
Nor do I think that there is any doubt that Parliament must interpret its own Privileges. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General was at pains to argue that in 1939 the House of Commons had accepted only the conclusions of the Committee on the Official Secrets Act. One of these conclusions is, I think, worth quoting. In paragraph 22 of its Report, that Committee said that… it would be inadvisable to attempt by legislation or otherwise to define with precision the extent of the immunity from prosecution under the Official Secrets Acts to which members of parliament are or ought to be entitled. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to draw a line between acts which are or ought to be permissible and acts which are or ought to be criminal. The privileges of parliament, like many other institutions of the British constitution, are indefinite in their nature and stated in general and sometimes vague terms. The elasticity"—which the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not like very much:thus secured has made it possible to apply existing privileges in new circumstances from time to time.The Committee then went on to quote the great authority, Sir William Blackstone, as saying:The dignity and independence of the two Houses are in great measure preserved by keeping their privileges indefinite. If all the privileges of parliament were set down and ascertained, and no privilege to be allowed but what was so defined and determined, it were easy for the executive power to devise some pew case, not within the line of privilege, and under pretence thereof to harass any refractory member and violate the freedom of Parliament.316 In interpreting—and I think that that is the right word—the Bill of Rights in this case, we must have regard to what is the purpose of our Privilege in this kind of instance. I should have thought that one could not do better than use the words of Lord Denman in the Stockdale v. Hansard case when he said that he thought that nothing should be put in the way of what was "required for the energetic discharge" of their duties by Members. Those are fine words, and they summarise, surely, what is the object of the protection given by privilege.
To my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Foot) I would say that Privilege surely must be related to the functions and duties of Members. It makes sense only in that connection. We do not seek Privilege for ourselves. We seek protection so that we may carry out our duties properly.
If I labour this point, it is because there has been a good deal of misunderstanding in the Press about it. It is suggested that this is something we are claiming, which in some respects is advantageous to us. What we are really doing is to ask for protection in order that we may carry out our duties, and those duties include the remedying of injustices and acting as a watchdog on public administration.
It can be said, of course, that the man who is deprived of the opportunity to bring an action for libel in the courts is aggrieved as a result of Privilege, but I think we must say also that the man who fancies he has a grievance, who believes that there is some scandal, is, on the contrary, considerably assisted by our Privileges.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) says that there might be an allegation that a teacher in a school had misbehaved in some way and was an improper person to be in charge of children, I would put to him that he should bear in mind in a matter of this kind not only the point of view of the teacher, though that certainly must be taken into account, but also the point of view of the parents of the children, and, indeed, of the children themselves.
Next, I would say that this Privilege is required, very largely, to enable hon. Members to investigate, to probe, to question action in some form or other by the Executive or by agencies of it. It is 317 not a matter which can be extended to everything. It is only in relation to matters for which Ministers are responsible that we seek to exercise it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South referred to the possibility of hon. Members being enabled to make any allegations they liked by letter about private companies or private individual, but this simply is not the case. This is not what the Committee is saying for one moment. If he studies the evidence of the Clerk and the questions put, he will see it is perfectly clear that the conclusions of the Committee were based on the assumption that the matter under dispute had to be capable of being discussed in Parliament and, therefore, had to be something for which a Minister, sooner or later, was ultimately responsible.
There can be no doubt, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South so well argued, that the Select Committee of 1939 on the Official Secrets Act threw considerable light on the whole matter and carried it further than hitherto. I do not see how we could, as a Committee of Privileges, have failed to take into full account that Report, which was endorsed, as far as I can remember, without a Division by the House of Commons in 1939. There can be no doubt, as has been repeatedly pointed out in the course of the debate, that that Committee certainly reached the conclusion that the Privilege laid down in the Bill of Rights could not be confined simply to what occurred within the walls of this Chamber. I need not quote again the well known paragraph 10 in that Report.
There is one other point that I wish to emphasise. We were confronted with the new problem of the nationalised industries, and with this situation. Again it comes out clearly in the evidence. At present, under the Ruling of the then Speaker, Colonel Clifton Brown, if a Member wishes to put down a Question on what might be deemed to be the day-to-day activities of a nationalised board he is unable to do so. Not only that, but the Table, on the instruction of Mr. Speaker, advises him to write direct, not even to the Minister, but to the chairman of the nationalised board. A very awkward situation arises out of that. For example, an hon. Member, like my right 318 hon. Friend, has reason to believe that some improper activity is going on in the administration of a nationalised board. What is he to do about it?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
He could put down a Motion, but he would have very little chance of having it debated. Let me hasten to say to the hon. Lady that the argument of the Committee that Privilege did extend to the letter to the Minister was based on the fact that the Member concerned had the right or opportunity to raise the matter in Parliament. I fully agree with that. What he cannot do is to put it down in the easiest way, the way that we should normally do with regard to Government Departments, in the form of a Question to which an Answer would be given.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
My right hon. Friend has mentioned the word "normally". I should like to have my mind cleared on this matter. Since my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) could not raise the matter normally—that is, on the Floor of the House—could he raise it in some other manner, which must mean abnormally? If it was abnormal outside the House, surely his letter was a proceeding outside Parliament.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am afraid that I would not accept that as a way of deciding this very important issue. I am simply drawing attention to the difficulty that has arisen.
When the Clerk of the House was being questioned on this point, he made it very plain that if the House were to take the view that a communication to the Minister was not privileged, then, of course, the Clerk could no longer continue to give advice to hon. Members in this way. I do not say that that settles the matter, but I do say that it implies that the problem of the nationalised industries is a special one. It could be argued, although we are not concerned to argue it, that a letter to a Minister about a nationalised industry would be covered by Privilege whereas a letter to a Minister about a constituency case would not, precisely for that reason.
We took a good deal of time on this matter. We certainly did not reach any 319 hurried conclusions. We discussed the legal problems involved and we discussed the other problems involved. We were drawn from different parties, and, with the exception of the Attorney-General, we all finally came to the same conclusion. I think we did so because we felt that it was unreasonable, once having accepted the Report of the 1939 Committee, to withhold from the protection of Privilege a letter to a Minister sent as my right hon. Friend's letter was sent.
We had to ask ourselves: what are the dangers of the alternative course? I think that the dangers are plain enough. If Members are not protected in the letters that they send to Ministers, then one of two things will happen. Either Members will be excessively cautious, and perhaps much too cautious, in attempting to uncover scandals about which information comes their way—and I do not think any hon. Member would wish that to happen—or they will simply have to put more and more Questions on the Order Paper. With the nationalised industries, assuming that the present rule continues, I suppose the only thing that Members could do, if they were not allowed to put Questions down and if they were afraid to write to Ministers, would be to wait in the queue to raise the matter on the Adjournment. But whether it would be raised quickly is exceedingly doubtful.
Finally, it has been said that there is a tremendous difference between giving protection to Questions and speeches in the House and giving protection to letters. I wonder if there is all that difference. It has been said that, after all, if one puts a Question on the Order Paper, if one makes a speech in the House, somebody can answer it in public, but, as has been pointed out by a number of hon. Members, forcing matters of this kind into what might be premature publicity might be indeed the very worst thing from the point of view of the person who may be libelled. Therefore, I do not feel that it is a convincing argument.
In supporting, therefore, the conclusions of the Committee of Privileges and the Motion moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, I have no feeling whatever that we are interfering with the liberty of the subject. 320 I fear that if we do not pass the Motion moved by the right hon. Gentleman the effectiveness of the House in looking after the grievances of the subjects of Her Majesty by unearthing scandals will be gravely impaired. I hope that that will not happen.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I rise to support the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). I greatly regret that I am in disagreement with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition but this is a matter which, by common consent, we must all decide for ourselves as Members of Parliament, and I am sure that, whichever way it goes, we can take it that our decision will be arrived at in a spirit of good will and genuine concern for the welfare of Parliament and the good of our people.
The debate has clarified the issues though it has not resolved our differences, and the issues in terms are fairly simple. This is a question of the interpretation of the Bill of Rights, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Foot) said. Moreover, the interpretation relates strictly to one letter written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and no other letter, though, as the Lord Privy Seal said, when we decide whether the letter written was in the course of a proceeding in Parliament, we shall have decided a precedent of some importance. That is why the debate has gone much wider than the letter written by my right hon. Friend.
I think we can also agree that interpretations sometimes widen the conception of the original rule or definition. The question is whether this interpretation does widen the original conception of the rule of Privilege in the Bill of Rights. I think it does. It should be noted that in 1939 the Committee of Privileges recommended that the interpretation of the Bill of Rights should extend to sending the draft of a Parliamentary Question to the Minister for observations before putting it on the Order Paper.
If that required a Report of the Committee of Privileges it seems to me that even that interpretation implied a slight extension of the original conception of a proceeding in Parliament. This, I think, clearly goes beyond the framework of the recommendations of the 321 Committee of Privileges in 1939. Opinions will differ as to whether this is an extension or not. We are agreed also, however, that an extension of our Privileges requires an Act of Parliament.
Should a decision be taken by the House of Commons on an interpretation of our Privileges which is a subject of acute difference of opinion? Would not it be wiser to do it through legislation, where it could be fully and properly debated and passed through both Houses of Parliament so that everyone, including the courts, would better know where he stood? I doubt whether hon. Members can be easy in their minds if they interpret our Privileges in an atmosphere of acute difference of opinion and controversy. Would not it be far better to deal with the matter more formally by legislation and to put it beyond reasonable doubt? At the moment, there is reasonable doubt about whether this is properly an interpretation of the Bill of Rights. It is most important that we should not presume to extend the scope of our Privileges without the fullest parliamentary sanction.
None of us wants the Privileges of Parliament for personal advantage or satisfaction, for personal aggrandisement, social prestige or advantage. The only Privileges which we want are those which we regard as indispensable for the proper performance of our duties as Members of Parliament. We have to guard against the assumption of power for power's sake. We must guard against the temptation to claim the power of Privilege unnecessarily.
The Lord Privy Seal said that, having regard to the facts of Parliamentary life today, it would not be unreasonable to regard writing letters to Ministers as a proceeding in Parliament. That is a point of view from which I dissent, but with which other hon. Members agree. The big difference between a proceeding in Parliament as it has always been understood and the writing of a letter to a Minister is that the proceedings in Parliament are public and that even when we sit in private it is customary for the proceedings to be published later, whereas a letter to a Minister is written in private and in circumstances in which the reputation or the position of a person may be seriously injured by unjustified accusations against him.
The Lord Privy Seal said that Privilege exists as much for the citizen as for 322 the Member of Parliament. We will certainly agree with that, but we must concern ourselves with the rights of citizens who stand accused and upon whose honour and integrity shadows are cast. It should be noted that most of the citizens whose honour and integrity may be in question will be those employed in the public service, and that puts an additional responsibility on the House to safeguard their legitimate interests.
I have always believed that there are two conditions for the survival of democracy. The first is a clash of opinion of men of good will, and the second is the constant challenge to bureaucracy. However, the challenge to bureaucracy cannot reasonably be extended to the abuse or even the use of Privilege which would inflict unjustified injury on those who are serving the House or who are in the employment of the State.
To comment on the letter written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall to the Minister, I respectfully suggest that alternative ways of dealing with the situation were open to him, and a number will occur to hon. Members. I think that he must have written in anger, which is a very bad state of mind in which to write complaints and make charges.
I am sure that, despite the restriction upon the freedom of Members of Parliament to ask Questions in this House affecting nationalised industries, there were alternative courses open to him, and I think that they would have been just as effective, and probably more so, than the one which he took.
So the question is asked, "What is an hon. Member to do? He cannot ask a Question on these matters in this House. He is precluded by the Ruling of a late Mr. Speaker from doing so. All that he can do is to write to Ministers and then expose himself to this danger of breach of Privilege?" I think that he should have chosen a less formal way, first of all, to raise this matter. I suggest that when the information was first conveyed to him he could have asked for an interview with the Chairman of the London Electricity Board who was the person against whom the charges were being made.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had followed that course, his action would not have had the advantage of publicity which, earlier, my hon. Friend was indicating would be a vital matter.
§ Mr. Houghton
I am discussing the action which he might have taken within the limitations imposed on hon. Members in this House on raising matters affecting nationalised industries. I am coming to the point of whether it would not be better for this House to find a remedy for that situation within the proceedings of the House. Better that than to have to seek the cover of Privilege on letters written to Ministers about nationalised industries. These would not be necessary in that form if we had greater freedom to discuss matters affecting the nationalised industries, just as we have freedom to discuss the affairs of Departments of State.
I come finally to the real issue as it affects a private Member of this House. Do we need this privilege for the better discharge of our duties? Have we, in fact, been under a disadvantage, an unconscious disadvantage, in years gone by through not having known of the interpretation of the Bill of Rights to cover the writing of letters as being a proceeding in Parliament?
The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P, Angew) said that he believed that we had had this privilege all along. I must confess that I was not aware of it. It never entered my head that we possessed it, and I am sure that many hon. Members have conducted their correspondence with discretion and, perhaps, caution, in order to avoid any possible dangers which might ensue. When making charges, I think that caution is a virtue. Therefore, I think that we should approach them with some hesitation, and we must have in our minds the possibility, if not the strong probability, that there is a good answer to the charges.
Moreover, I think that the practice that we often follow of sending constituents' letters to Ministers tends to encourage the citizen to ignore the avenues of redress which this House has put there for the protection of the citizen against the powers of bureaucracy. I think that we sometimes encourage irresponsibility 324 and encourage persons to ignore the proper channels for expressing their grievances. We should discourage citizens from using Members of Parliament as channels of communication to Ministers when they have proper approaches through recognised machinery of appeal or otherwise.
Members of Parliament should not be courts of first instance. There are matters which should come to us only if there is need for remedy through the administration, by law or regulation, only after the normal processes of representations and appeal have been gone through. That is only a personal opinion, and I am expressing it very frankly.
I do not want this privilege and I do not want the public to know that I have it. In my humble opinion, we can conduct our business quite properly and discharge our responsibilities fairly and with courage—if we adopt wise means of doing so—without claiming this addition to our Privileges in order to give us a protection which, in my view, is not justified, and which the public ought not easily to surrender to us.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I rise to support the Amendment. We shall very shortly reach a decision as free men and women on this issue, which has aroused very great interest inside and outside the House. Such interests are not invariably complementary. We sometimes have debates which excite us in the House but stir very few ripples outside, and there are some debates upon lively public issues which fall disappointingly flat here. In this, both public and Parliament have taken a strong interest, and for very good reasons. We have the strongest mutual interest in what is now being discussed.
Admittedly the background is complex, and I admit that much of the proceedings of the Committee of Privileges taxed me from the legal standpoint, but I am spared much trouble in that respect because of the many speeches which have been made by hon. and learned Members—not least the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. But the main issue emerges fairly clearly, and a good deal of opinion outside the House has shown itself to be seized of it. People have an uncanny 325 knack of reaching the point of these complex issues by courses less devious than Parliamentarians sometimes have to take.
Although I support the Amendment, I have not much time for the point of view which presents this as one more example of Members of Parliament seeking to arrogate to themselves more Privilege. That is a gross over-simplification of the issue, but it has been expressed, and it must be touched upon. Not a single Member, whether he supports the Motion or the Amendment, is moved by considerations of vanity or prestige, or the thirst for more power. It is not aggrandisement but apprehension which is the spur.
My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said that there was anxiety in the minds of hon. Members—and I entirely accept that. There is apprehension that in that sector of our affairs which is governed by Parliamentary correspondence—and that is a considerable sector for many of us—we shall or might be handicapped in doing our duty, perhaps more so in future because of the light which has been focussed upon an anomaly which has not hitherto been widely recognised. That fear is not lightly to be dismissed. In terms of public opinion those who support the Motion have by far the hardest rôle. They have the hardest case to make. To cry "Down with Privilege" is assured of a ready response in some quarters to-day. I am not backing that horse.
Correspondence between Ministers and Members, and Members and public officers, is now an integral part of our Parliamentary duties. Its volume has increased enormously since the war. It often replaces, and sometimes precedes, Parliamentary action. Sometimes it is inseparable from it. It would indeed be a grave matter if, for fear of the consequences, this function were impeded. To get the matter in perspective, it is fair to add that this does not arise very often. It arises in its acutest form when grave allegations are brought to us against a person or persons by a constituent who requests us to take some action. The field in which that may occur has been widened by the creation of many new public bodies, not only the nationalised industries but many other bodies, connected with the National 326 Health Service, for instance, whose business falls into difficult and doubtful ground when it comes to making accusations.
No two hon. Members handle such cases in quite the same way. Some, if they have the time—and in passing I would say that pressure of time upon us is a major factor in this connection—will do their best to check any allegations brought to them. Some may be less inhibited—I will not say more careless—but the fact remains that both categories often get through long and distinguished Parliamentary careers without serious difficulty, and without a qualm. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who is not in the habit of mincing his words, has not encountered serious trouble on this score during his own long career in this House. [Interruption.] I am trying to find as much common ground as I can, and I am very pressed for time.
The Lord Privy Seal referred to the danger of nationalised industries enjoying a privileged position. Questions are precluded, and it seems now that letters are dangerous. What redress is left? I would say this. There may well be a case for reviewing or changing the machinery of the relations between ourselves and these industries, but that cannot be made an immediate excuse for changing our privileges. We should be able to curb nationalised industries without being too rude to their officers. In my very short experience in two Government offices, I learned to distinguish between the long and careful letter and the slip sometimes pinned to an enormous bundle of paper, which says, "Dear Bill, What about this? Yours, George." It is clear that an obligation lies upon all Members of Parliament to handle such letters with discretion. In my young days reporters were told that the first rule is "Check your facts." I do not know whether that rule still universally applies, but it is a good one for Members. Even if their time is limited because of the volume of business, the obligation remains. The language used in our own letters is also a matter of some importance. It is possible to defend the right while using temperate language.
I think, too, that an obligation for discretion is imposed upon the Minister and his private office. He should be reasonably careful that allegations are not 327 unnecessarily bandied about. Given these conditions, do the remaining fears justify what is widely interpreted as an extension of cur protection? The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition used that word, and I will use it too. Lawyers are vigilant, and they may be more so in future. Do we seriously envisage a course of actions that might be embarrassing and even costly to Members of Parliament? Do we seriously envisage a clash with the judiciary? Such fears have been very fully dealt with in this debate by more experienced legal hands than mine.
It is at least fair to set beside them, however, another consideration, which is the possible danger of our taking action which might appear to warn off or deny citizens access to the courts. That is not only a grave dilemma for the legal profession—a fact which has been touched upon in some quarters—but it is also some infringement of a fundamental right. Though, as my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said, the old dualism remains unresolved, we have avoided a serious clash with the courts for over a century. That is due in part to the matchless English sense of political and judicial balance. I am prepared to repose a good deal of confidence in that—not in the letter but in the spirit of the law.
Let us accept that an element of risk remains. We can put it in perspective, but we cannot eliminate it. Other considerations then arise. It has been said that there is an element of risk which is inseparable from all responsible public works. We must not make too much of that. It is true that a risk is run and accepted by many responsible citizens who perform serious and important functions in our public life. There are risks inherent in all forms of public service.
But there is this to be said. The risks we run today are incomparably lighter than some of the risks which have been borne in past centuries by our predecessors. Men who sat on these benches in pursuit of public duty, according to their lights, have met with more violent ends than the issue of a writ. We are rightly proud to be their heirs and successors and we ought not to take too timorous a view of the consequences. Public duty cannot be made altogether safe for anybody. I do not think there is any Member 328 of this House who would wish it entirely to be made safe.
That brings me, in conclusion, to some wider reflections which I venture to put before the House. In whatever way we may regard Parliamentary democracy it does impose upon us, the elected, certain obligations of leadership. By and large, democratic leadership is not doing too well in the world outside at this moment. It is getting badly knocked about—mercifully much less here than elsewhere. It is always difficult to define the ingredients which go to make it up, though countless speeches have been made upon the subject. One can say it rests, this leadership—certainly as we represent it here—on certain tacit, unwritten but accepted terms between the people and Parliament, between the leaders and the led. I do not think Parliamentary Privilege or rights play a very large part in those terms. The main element I think, can be expressed in one word, "trust".
We are trustees. I prefer that word to "servants" or "leaders". To some, that trust between those who govern and those who are governed has never been quite the same since the events of World War I, and in particular since that fearful battle on the Somme that was going on just 42 years ago. After that, no one was going to feel quite the same towards the Government or towards its leaders. After that, the trust was never again to be quite so implicit. There may be other causes; I can give only my own views.
It follows that there is a need today to foster and to cherish that trust by all means. It is the cement of our Parliamentary democracy. It rests upon delicate ground and I feel that any steps we take should be viewed in this light: Does it strengthen or does it weaken that trust? Technically, if we reject the Motion and accept the Amendment we deny ourselves the protection which some, with their hands on their hearts and with absolute sincerity, are prepared to say we ought to have. I respect that view. But in doing so I do not think we surrender the wider and perhaps more significant object. We gain it. It is the more generous action that will strengthen the trust.
We are dealing with a people with innate political judgment which some may call almost genius. We are not the only ones to benefit from the long history and experience of violent, brave, and noble actions which have occurred in this 329 House; the people have shared them, and they, too, have benefited. They, too, have been enriched by those experiences. Tonight we are discussing in the long run not our rights but their needs; not how we may best do our job but how best we may work on their behalf. That is what this debate has been about. This is how many of them will see it, and that, I hope, is how some of us will see it. If we do so I earnestly hope that we shall pass this Amendment.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I think we can all say, no matter how long we have sat in this House, that the debate we have had today has been worthy of the occasion and worthy of the House. It has also been a real debate for I have not heard a single hon. Member say, "I hope that the hon. Member who preceded me will excuse me if I do not follow him in the course of his remarks". This has been what Mr. Speaker Fitzroy asked for on a previous occasion, a debate in which there has been real cut and thrust.
I have listened with great pleasure, genuine pleasure, to the speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), and I would adopt it as a reason for rejecting the Amendment and passing the Motion. It is very difficult when one gets into generalities to be able to feel that one has really advocated the particular narrow cause one is supposed to serve—I mean the narrow cause of the Amendment as against the Motion. I accept the hon. Member's view that we are here as trustees. We are the trustees of a great heritage which has been created in this place and preserved by men who, as he said, ran far more risks then we have ever run or will ever have to run so far as we can see. We have to preserve that for future generations and in these days, as the course of our debate has shown, for other peoples who have adopted our Parliamentary system and who quote our precedents as the bases for their actions in other deliberative assemblies of this kind.
We have to foster in this country, and to cherish, the trust that understanding people of all classes repose in the House and its Members. Let us not forget when we talk somewhat glibly about democracy that in 1831 when Macaulay made that 330 great speech in which he advocated the first Reform Bill, he said he would not support the Bill if it meant democracy. We are the creators in our generation of a new democracy in which adult universal suffrage has really, for the first time, been given an opportunity to show what it can do.
In spite of what my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said, we are expected to listen to the grievances of quite humble people who find it difficult to put their grievances into words and well-nigh impossible to put them into writing. We have to deal with those grievances against a bureaucracy—I do not use that word in any hostile or derogatory sense—which touches their lives more and more intimately with every year that goes by, no matter which party in this House is in Government.
It is therefore very essential that we should be in a position to voice their views, their intimately felt grievances and to get remedies for them, where remedies are possible, by the exercise of the powers of the House. I do not say by the exercise of the powers of hon. Members of this House. I take the view that the subject we are discussing today is a question of the House of Commons and not of individual Members of the House.
I do not know what right of access I have to the chairman of a nationalised board. Let me be quite frank about that. I have a right of access to a Minister, for he is a servant of the House, but I have no direct contact with the chairman of a nationalised board. I was shocked to hear in the course of the proceedings of the Committee of Privileges that Members were advised, when they wanted to question a responsible Minister, to write to the chairman of the nationalised board.
I am not pleading for any Privilege for a letter or approach made direct by a Member of this House to a chairman of a nationalised board or any other similar body. The strength of our democracy depends upon every Minister of the Crown, either in this House or in the other place, standing at the Table and answering to any Member of Parliament when the opportunity comes for any action he has taken in the Department for which he is responsible. In modern circumstances, it is impossible for us to do our duty in the intimate 331 matters to which I have alluded earlier in my speech in any other way than by direct access to the Minister.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby asked why did not my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) go to see the chairman of the nationalised board. I think that my right hon. Friend took the proper course. There is a Minister responsible to this House for the affairs of that particular board, and my right hon. Friend went to him. May I say that I have never written to the chairman of a nationalised board, or to the War Damage Commission or any of these other bodies? I have always written to the Minister who is responsible, for I might even have been getting the chairman into trouble.
Suppose I could persuasively get him into the position in which he did something that was opposed to the general policy of the Minister—I am not very clever, but it is just possible that one might be able to succeed in doing that—I think that that would place the chairman of a nationalised board in a very difficult position. He may want to do the kind of thing which a Member of Parliament is asking him to do but is unable to do it because of the Minister's policy.
Once we get away from the doctrine that the Member of Parliament has the right to the attention of the Minister in charge of the Department we land ourselves in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) called "all sorts of illogicalities". I have known my right hon. Friend long enough to know that logic is not always his strong point.
I am not speaking as a lawyer. Lawyers are much too dogmatic for me. When I listened to the Attorney-General dogmatically making a series of assertions this afternoon, I reflected, "He is perhaps getting a little more reasonable than when he told us about the Act of 1770." He was just as dogmatic about his views on that. In fact, he so frightened some right hon. and hon. Members of the Committee of Privileges that they brought before the House the proposal that we should ask the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council what it thought about the Attorney-General's views on the Act of 1770.
332 We were even told that if it went to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council we should not be able to find a lawyer to argue the other side of the case. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury sometimes complains that I speak disparagingly of the legal profession, but I have not said anything as stupid as the statement which I have just quoted to the House. I had no doubt that, if it were required, some counsel learned in the law would be prepared to risk his immortal soul in order to plead that case.
We went to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. As far as I can find out, it was the first time that this House has ever asked the Law Courts for their views on privilege. I was very satisfied with the reply. I can only hope that the Attorney-General was also satisfied.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition quoted that great saying of Denman that what the courts had to secure for Members was all the privileges requiredfor the energetic discharge of their duties.It is thirty-five years since I first came here, and I have seen the mere demands on a Member of Parliament, on his time and on his physical energy, multiply themselves over and over again. In these days, when the affairs maintained by Government Departments press on us as frequently and over as wide a range as they do, if we are to discharge those duties energetically we must have the right of access to Ministers, who are the people with whom we deal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby made a legitimate plea that the junior bureaucrats should be protected from wrongful assertions on the way they discharge their duties. I thoroughly agree. I would prefer, therefore, that we go to the Minister and not to the chief under-bureaucrat, the chairman of the nationalised board, or the head of some department of the nationalised board. In the latter case, the worst of the fears of my hon. Friend would be realised.
I come now to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Foot). He said that we gained privilege resisting the influence of the Crown. If we take the Bill of Rights itself, it does not attack James II. What it says is that he was misled by 333 evil counsellors—[An HON. MEMBER: "Lawyers."] Well, after all, the Attorney-General of Charles I was sent to the Tower for a fortnight by this House because of his part in the attempted arrest of the five Members. Again we get back to this position that it is the advisers of the Crown, the people who carry out the executive acts, who are responsible to us, and we have invented the doctrine that the King can do no wrong because it is his evil Ministers who, when he was trying to do right, did something wrong in his name. We cannot get away from that position.
I come now to what I understand some of my hon. Friends regard as their strong card in the case under discussion. I do not believe that we can discharge our duties to our constituents unless we have this right of access to Ministers—[HON. MEMBERS: "We have it."] As I understand it, the affront of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall was that he had the presumption to write on the matter to the Minister.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I will see if I can make a logical sentence. I made clear in my speech that I was not in any way disputing the right of any Member of Parliament to communicate with the Minister about a nationalised board, or about any other subject of interest. It may be that the Minister can or cannot deal with it, but I only say that when writing there is surely a sensible course to take, which is to frame the letter in
§ such a way as not to give cause for legal action.
§ Mr. Ede
That is a doctrine that I should reject out of hand. It is for the Member concerned to frame his letter so that it gives expression to his views, or to the views of the aggrieved person whom he is representing. It may be necessary in so doing—and that has been the inherent value of Privilege in this House—to say things in terms that would not be tolerated in any other communication. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is the whole point.
I have to say that it was a matter of regret to me that the massive and well-argued speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) was not heard by a larger number of Members. He put his whole case, if I may say so, for the first time in this debate by a lawyer, in a logical and persuasive form, with no dogmas anywhere in it, and I can only hope that his views will be those that will prevail with the majority of hon. Members. Let us be quite certain of this. What we do tonight will very largely determine from now onwards the efficiency with which Members can discharge the duties their constituents place upon them. I sincerely hope that the Amendment will be defeated and the Motion carried.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 213, Noes 218.337
|Division No. 193.]||AYES||[9.56 p.m.|
|Ainsley, J W.||Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Albu, A. H.||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Burke, W. A.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Carmichael, J.||Fernyhough, E.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Fitch, Alan|
|Balfour, A.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Fletcher, Eric|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Clunie, J.||Forman, J. C.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Coldrick, W.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Gaitskeil, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Cove, W. G.||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.|
|Blackburn, F.||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Gibson, C. W.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Cullen, Mrs. A.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.|
|Boardman, H.||Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Gower, H. R.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Davies, Rt. Hon. Clement (Montgomery)||Greenwood, Anthony|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Grey, C. F.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Deer, G.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Diamond, John||Grimond, J.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||Hale, Leslie|
|Brockway, A. F.||Duthie, W. S.||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Hannan, W.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)|
|Hastings, S.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Moss, R.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Moyle, A.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Mulley, F. W.||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Holman, P.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Snow, J. W.|
|Holmes, Horace||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Hoy, J. H.||Oram, A. E.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Orbach, M.||Steele, T.|
|Hyde, Montgomery||Oswald, T.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Owen, W. J.||Stonehouse, John|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Padley, W. E.||Storey, S.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Paget, R. T.||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C)|
|Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Parker, J.||Teeling, W.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Parkin, B. T.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)||Peart, T. F.||Thornton, E.|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Pentland, N.||Timmons, J.|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Prentice, R. E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Wade, D. W.|
|Kenyon, C.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Probert, A. R.||Weitzman, D.|
|Lagden, G. W.||Proctor, W. T.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Lawson, G. M.||Pursey, cmdr. H.||West, D. G.|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Redhead, E. C.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Lewis, Arthur||Reeves, J.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Lipton, Marcus||Reid, William||Willey, Frederick|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Reynolds, G. W.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Rhodes, H.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|McAlister, Mrs. Mary||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|McCann, J.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Winterbottom, Richard|
|MacColl, J. E.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|MacDermot, Niall||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|McInnes, J.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Ross, William||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Royle, C.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Mann, Mrs. Jean||Shepherd, William|
|Marquand,, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Short, E. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mellish, R. J.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Dr. King and Sir P. Agnew.|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Green, A.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Ashton, H.||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Cunningham, Knox||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)|
|Atkins, H. E.||Dance, J. C. G.||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||Davidson, Viscountess||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)|
|Barber, Anthony||D-Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Deedes, W. F.||Hay, John|
|Barter, John||Delargy, H. J.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Batsford, Brian||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Donnelly, D. L.||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Drayson, G. B.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Duncan, Sir James||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Black, C. W.||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)|
|Body, R. F.||Errington, Sir Eric||Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt n)|
|Bonham Carter, Mark||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Braine, B. R.||Finlay, Graeme||Hornby, R. P.|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Horobin, Sir Ian|
|Brooman-White, R. c.||Foot, D. M.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Fort, R.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Bryan, P.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Howard, John (Test)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Gammans, Lady||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||George, J. C. (Pollok)||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Gibson-Watt, D.||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Glover, D.||Hulbert, Sir Norman|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Hurd, A. R.|
|Cooke, Robert||Goodhart, Philip||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Gough, C. F. H.||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Marshall, Douglas||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Mathew, R.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)||Mawby, R. L.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Joseph, Sir Keith||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Kaberry, D.||Moore, Sir Thomas||Speir, R. M.|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Kershaw, J. A.||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Kimball, M.||Nairn, D. L. S.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Kirk, P. M.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Lambton, Viscount||Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Noble, Michael (Argyll)||Temple, John M.|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Leavey, J. A.||Oakshott, H. D.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Leburn, W. G.||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim. N.)||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Osborne, C.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Page, R. G.||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Tomney, F.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Partridge, E.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Peel, W. J.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Peyton, J. W. W.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Pitman, I. J.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|McKibbin, Alan||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Wall, Patrick|
|Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Pott, H. P.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Powell, J. Enoch||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Webster, David|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Ramsden, J. E.||Wigg, George|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Rawlinson, Peter||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Maddan, Martin||Redmayne, M.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Renton, D. L. M.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Ridsdale, J. E.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Robson Brown, Sir William||Mr. Houghton and Sir G. Nicholson.|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
§ Question put, That the proposed words be there added:—338
§ The House divided: Ayes 219, Noes 201.341
|Division No. 194.]||AYES||[10.8 p.m.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Crossman, R. H. S.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)|
|Ashton, H.||Cunningham, Knox||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Dance, J. C. G.||Hay, John|
|Atkins, H. E.||Davidson, Viscountess||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R G.|
|Barber, Anthony||Deedes, W. F.||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James|
|Barlow, Sir John||Delargy, H. J.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.|
|Barter, John||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)|
|Batsford, Brian||Donnelly, D. L.||Hill, Mrs E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Drayson, G. B.||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Duncan, Sir James||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Hornby, R. P.|
|Black, C. W.||Errington, Sir Eric||Horobin, Sir Ian|
|Body, R. F.||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence|
|Bonham Carter, Mark||Finlay, Graeme||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Braine, B. R.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Foot, D. M.||Howard, John (Test)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Fort, R.||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.|
|Bryan, P.||Gammans, Lady||Hulbert, Sir Norman|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||George, J. C. (Pollok)||Hurd, A. R.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Gibson-Watt, D.||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Glover, D.||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Goodhart, Philip||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Cooke, Robert||Gough, C. F. H.||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)|
|Cooper, A. E.||Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)||Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Green, A.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Joseph, Sir Keith|
|Kaberry, D.||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Kershaw, J. A.||Moore, Sir Thomas||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Kimball, M.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Kirk, P. M.||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Lambton, Viscount||Nairn, D. L. S.||Speir, R. M.|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Leavey, J. A.||Noble, Michael (Argyll)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Leburn, W. G.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Oakshott, H. D.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Temple, John M.|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Longden, Gilbert||Osborne, C.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Page, R. G.||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Partridge, E.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter||Peel, W. J.||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Mackeson, Brig, Sir Harry||Peyton, J. W. W.||Tomney, F.|
|McKibbin, Alan||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Usborne, H. C.|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Pitman, I. J.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Pott, H. P.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Powell, J. Enoch||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Maddan, Martin||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Ramsden, J. E.||Wall, Patrick|
|Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Rawlinson, Peter||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Redmayne, M.||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Renton, D. L. M.||Webster, David|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Ridsdale, J. E.||Wigg, George|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Marshall, Douglas||Robson Brown, Sir William||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Mathew, R.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Woollam, John Victor|
|Mawby, R. L.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Houghton and Sir G. Nicholson.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)|
|Albu, A. H.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Kenyon, C.|
|Balfour, A.||Fernyhough, E.||Kerby, Capt. H. B.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Fisher, Nigel||Lagden, G. W.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Fitch, Alan||Lawson, G. M.|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Fletcher, Eric||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||Forman, J. C.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Lewis, Arthur|
|Blackburn, F.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Lipton, Marcus|
|Blenkinsop, A.||George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then)||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Gibson, C. W.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Boardman, H.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||McAlister, Mrs. Mary|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Gower, H. R.||McCann, J.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)||Greenwood, Anthony||MacColl, J. E.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||MacDermot, Niall|
|Boyd, T. C.||Grey, C. F.||McInnes, J.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Macpherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Grimond, J.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hale, Leslie||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Hannan, W.||Mellish, R. J.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hastings, S.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Burke, W. A.||Hayman, F. H.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)|
|Carmichael, J.||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Moyle, A.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Herbison, Miss M.||Mulley, F. W.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Clunie, J.||Holman, P.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)|
|Coldrick, W.||Holmes, Horace||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Hoy, J. H.||Oram, A. E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Orbach, M.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hyde, Montgomery||Oswald, T.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Padley, W. E.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Paget, R. T.|
|Davies, Rt. Hon. Clement (Montgomery)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Parkin, B. T.|
|Deer, G.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Peart, T. F.|
|Diamond, John||Jeger, George (Goole)||Pentland, N.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Jeger, Mr. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs. S.)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Popplewell, E.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Viant, S. P.|
|Prentice, R. E.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||Wade, D. W.|
|Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Skeflington), A. M.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)||Weitzman, D.|
|Probert, A. R.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||West, D. G.|
|Proctor, W. T.||Snow, J. W.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Sorensen, R. W.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Redhead, E. C.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Spriggs, Leslie||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Reeves, J.||Steele, T.||Willey, Frederick|
|Reid, William||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Reynolds, G. W.||Stonehouse, John||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Rhodes, H.||Storey, S.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||Stress, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Teeling, W.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Ross, William||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Royle, C.||Thornton, E.|
|Shepherd, William||Timmons, J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Short, E. W.||Tweedsmuir, Lady||Dr. King and Sir P. Agnew.|
|Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
§ Main Question, as amended, put:—342
§ The House divided: Ayes 219, Noes 196.345
|Division No. 195.]||AYES||[10.17 p.m.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Errington, Sir Eric||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)|
|Ashton, H.||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Joseph, Sir Keith|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Finlay, Graeme||Kaberry, D.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||Foot, D. M.||Kershaw, J. A.|
|Barber, Anthony||Fort, R.||Kimball, M.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Kirk, P. M.|
|Barter, John||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Lamhton, Viscount|
|Batsford, Brian||Gammans, Lady||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||George, J. C. (Pollok)||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Gibson-Watt, D.||Leavey, J. A.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Glover, D.||Leburn, W. G.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Bingham, R. M.||Goodhart, Philip||Legh, Hon. Peter (Peterefield)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Gough, C. F. H.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Black, C. W.||Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)||Longden, Gilbert|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)|
|Body, R. F.||Green, A.||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby|
|Bonham Carter, Mark||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)|
|Braine, B. R.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||McKibbin, Alan|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Bryan, P.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Maddan, Martin|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)|
|Cooke, Robert||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Hornby, R. P.||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Horobin, Sir Ian||Marshall, Douglas|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Mathew, R.|
|Crowder, petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Mawby, R. L.|
|Cunningham, Knox||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Maydon, Lt. Comdr. S. L. C.|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Howard, John (Test)||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Moore, Sir Thomas|
|Deedes, W. F.||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Hurd, A. R.||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Drayson, G. B.||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Iremonger, T. L.||Noble, Comdr, Rt. Hon. Allan|
|Duncan, Sir James||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Noble, Michael (Argyll)|
|Nugent, G. R. H.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Oakshott, H. D.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Tomney, F.|
|Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Roper, Sir Harold||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Osborne, C.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Usborne, H. C.|
|Page, R. G.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Panned, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Partridge, E.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Peel, W. J.||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Peyton, J. W. W.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Wall, Patrick|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Spearman, Sir Alexander||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Pike, Miss Mervyn||Speir, R. M.||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Pitman, I. J.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard||Webster, David|
|Pitt, Miss E. M.||Stevens, Geoffrey||Wigg, George|
|Pott, H. P.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Powell, J. Enoch||Studholme, Sir Henry||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Summers, Sir Spencer||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Ramsden, J. E.||Temple, John M.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Rawlinson, Peter||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Redmayne, M.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Renton, D. L. M.||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)||Mr. Houghton and Sir G. Nicholson.|
|Ridsdale, J. E.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Gower, H. R.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Albu, A. H.||Greenwood, Anthony||Noel-Baker Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Oram, A. E.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Grey, C. F.||Orbach, M.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Oswald, T.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Grimond, J.||Padley, W. E.|
|Balfour, A.||Hale, Leslie||Paget, R. T.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Hannan, W.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Hastings, S.||Parkin, B. T.|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||Hayman, F. H.||Peart, T. F.|
|Blackburn, F.||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Pentland, N.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Herbison, Miss M.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Boardman, H.||Holman, P.||Popplewell, E.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Holmes, Horace||Prentice, R. E.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)||Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hoy, J. H.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Boyd, T. C.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Hyde, Montgomery||Probert, A. R.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Reeves, J.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Reid, William|
|Burke, W. A.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Carmichael, J.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Rhodes, H.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Clunie, J.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Coldrick, W.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Ross, William|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Jones, T. W. (Merloneth)||Royle, C.|
|Craddock George (Bradford, S.)||Kenyon, C.||Shepherd, William|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Short, E. W.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Lagden, G. W.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Deer, G.||Lewis, Arthur||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Diamond, John||Lipton, Marcus||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Duthie, W. S.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Dye, S.||McAlister, Mrs. Mary||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||McCann, J.||Snow, J. W.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||MacColl, J. E.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||MacDermot, Niall||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McInnes, J.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Steele, T.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd. E.)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Stonehouse, John|
|Fitch, Alan||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Storey, S.|
|Fletcher, Eric||Mellish, R. J.||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Forman, J. C.||Mitchison, G. R.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Moyle, A.||Teeling, W.|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then)||Mulley, F. W.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Thornton, E.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Timmons, J.|
|Tweedsmuir, Lady||Wheeldon, W. E.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Viant, S. P.||Wilkins, W. A.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Wade, D. W.||Willey, Frederick||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Warbey, W. N.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Watkins, T. E.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Weitzman, D.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|West, D. G.||Winterbottom, Richard||Dr. King and Sir P. Agnew.|
That this House does not consider that Mr. Strauss' letter of the 8th February, 1957, was "a proceeding in Parliament" and is of