§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
I beg to move,That leave be given to the proper Officers of this House to attend the trial of the action entered in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice and entitled Philip Barrington Dingle and Associated Newspapers Limited, Arthur George Wareham and Michael Kelly, and to produce and prove the Report of the Committee to whom the Manchester Corporation Bill was referred in the last Session of Parliament and the Journal of this House, so far as it is relevant to the said Report, and also the volumes of the Official Report of Debates appertaining to speeches and remarks concerning the Manchester Corporation Bill, and to give evidence verifying the same.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you would be good enough to give me your guidance on this matter. There are some of 632 us who feel that there should be an Amendment to this Motion and I am wondering whether, at this stage, you would be prepared to accept a manuscript Amendment to the effect that other papers not defined in the Motion should also be made available to the judiciary when the action takes place. Would you be good enough to accept the manuscript Amendment to make that possible?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not see how I could accept a manuscript Amendment at this very late stage of the proceedings. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) gave notice of this matter yesterday, and if any Amendments were desired to the Motion they could have been put down.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely no one would wish to object to this notice of Motion. The desire to be effected by inclusion of certain words is simply to assist the court and not circumscribe the material that the court can call for during the proceedings of the action. As the Motion now stands, the material that the court can call for is limited and not all-inclusive. For example, it does not include minutes of the proceedings of Committees and all notices in writing given by the Clerk under Standing Order No. 199A.
633 Surely it is the desire of this House to ensure that all the relevant material, irrespective of whether it is in the Journal of the House or not, should be available to the court. As the Motion now stands, minutes of proceedings of Committees and of notices in writing given by the Clerk under Standing Order No. 199A would not be available to the court of justice called upon to try this case.
The situation may very well arise, if this Motion is passed in its present form, that reference may be made to you, Mr. Speaker, during the long Recess, to ask you to use your discretion to ensure that what material should be available should not be partial in regard to any part of the proceedings of this House, but all comprehensive. Therefore, it is only in a desire to assist the court that we should like to move a manuscript Amendment to include minutes of proceedings of Committees and all notices given under Standing Order 199A. If it is a fact—which undoubtedly it is—that those minutes of proceedings and notices would not be available to the court if this Motion were passed in its present form, what harm would be done if these words were added so that the court could have a full range of opportunity, when the trial takes place, of saying, "We want this, we want that, or we want something else"?
The court would not have that power under the Motion. It would not have power to call for minutes of proceedings of Committees or to ask for the notices given in writing under Standing Order 199A. Our desire to Include these words as an Amendment is simply to assist the course of justice and in no way to circumscribe it. Surely justice should be whole and complete and not limited to any part of the proceedings. I make no reference to the merits of the case, or the question of a trial. This is a question of principle, whether the court should have power to call for everything and not for just part of the proceedings.
§ Mr. Speaker
This has arisen so late that I feel that I might be doing wrong if I allowed an Amendment at this stage. The Motion is quite definite and is in the terms moved by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury yesterday. I do not think that at this stage I should allow a manuscript Amendment, which would be on 634 facts which I have had no opportunity of judging. Even if such an Amendment were proposed, I should not propose to select it at this late stage.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Further to that point of order. Subject to your confirmation, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that it would facilitate business and help us all if we first discussed the points of order and later discussed the merits of the issue. Do you accept that that is the best course?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
My point of order, Mr. Speaker, if you would be good enough to follow it, is that the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister, relating to the suspension of the rule, appeared only this morning and, therefore, no hon. Member knew until this morning that the Motion of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) would be taken tonight. If that is in accordance with Parliamentary practice, and if it is right to take the Motion now, surely it is also right for you, Mr. Speaker, to give reasonable consideration to a reasonable manuscript Amendment.
Secondly, I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, when this Motion appeared on the Order Paper and when the House knew that it would be taken.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever
Further to that point of order, Sir. The issue is whether we should limit the consideration of the court to a certain part of the proceedings of the House, or whether we should make all the proceedings, upstairs and downstairs, including all the notices, available to the court.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Harry Hylton-Foster)
If the House would hear me upon this point of order, may I say that I know it is the wish of the House merely to facilitate the administration of justice. There is no other purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) moved his Motion yesterday at the time for unopposed business. There were then noises such as happen in the House, and 635 the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) eventually said that he objected to the Motion on the ground that it might occupy time for Scottish Questions. That was not exactly on the merits of the Motion. In that sense the House had warning that my hon. Friend intended to propose the Motion.
It is no outrage on the business of the House to say that this is a conventional Motion when there is an action at law. There is nothing odd about it that the House should be able to assist. I am sure that the House will realise that what it would be right for the House to order must depend upon the issues in the action.
Rather imagining that hon. Members might want me to be able to tell them on this issue what the action was all about, I have, by consent of both parties to the action, had a look at the proceedings, which normally are, I think, confidential documents until the trial starts. But by agreement of both parties to the action I was allowed to look at them in the hope that I could help at this stage; then I will keep very quiet, because I desire to excite only the judgment of the House.
It is an action for defamation based on an article in the Daily Mail. The article, according to the defendants, said various things which, as to part, were a fair and accurate report of proceedings in the House and, as to another part, were an extract from a Report presented to this House by order of the House. The defendants cannot prove in court either the Report or the proceedings, unless the House gives leave. That is all. Therefore, from the defendants' point of view the whole process of justice is distorted unless we give leave.
Privilege, such as it may be in this context—I do not want to deliver to the House a lecture on the law, which would be boring—would depend essentially, to begin with, on whether it was a fair and accurate report of the proceedings of the House, or, on the other hand, whether the report is something published without malice by the defendants and bona fide. It could be either way round. Obviously, no one could follow that and no jury or judge could judge that unless they had the text of the thing before them.
§ The Solicitor-General
If the hon. Member will forgive me, I am trying to advise the House in as negative, flat and boring manner as I can. Obviously, they cannot judge the issue. I submit to the House that they ought to.
With regard to the kind of point of order which the hon. Member was moving, it all depends on what the issue is on the pleadings. In this context of defamation it is only what the defendants urge is the defence of what they said in their newspaper which is relevant in the interests of anyone at all, as far as one can reasonably see. To suggest introducing other proceedings of the House or other documents, which nobody has thought fit to ask for—I have no doubt that both parties are very competently and skilfully advised—does not seem to me to be developing a point of order, having had an indication from the Chair, which will help the administration of justice, which I know that the House wants to further.
§ Mr. Speaker
Let us understand where we are. I have proposed to the House the Question on the Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, I wish to put, through you, a question to the Solicitor-General. I understand that the advice we have been given is to see to it that the House would not wish to place any obstacle in the way of a fair hearing of this action. Of course, we all agree with that. If it be the case that a party to the action wishes to obtain a fuller report of the proceedings or part of the proceedings, is it possible, after the House adjourns tomorrow, for that party to obtain a further part of the proceedings?
Without being a lawyer, I think that the question can be put very simply. I understood the learned Solicitor-General to say that if one party to the legal proceedings has asked to have access to the proceedings of a Select Committee of the House it cannot really be blamed if the other party to those proceedings has not so far made representations to the House. I want to know whether, if the other party to the legal proceedings wishes later to have revealed to it, for 637 instance, the minutes of the proceedings of the Select Committee, there is any reason why that should not be granted.
I take it that that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) sought to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, to permit a manuscript Amendment. But, if we are not doing an injustice to either party to the legal proceedings, I am quite satisfied.
§ Mr. Speaker
I will tell the House how the matter appears to me. This Motion is necessary because of a Resolution passed by this House—in, I think, 1818—which said that an Officer of the House should not be allowed to give evidence about proceedings in this House without the leave of the House. Therefore, the Officers of the House necessary to produce and prove these documents cannot appear in court unless this Motion is passed.
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury moved his Motion yesterday without notice, as he is entitled to do. Objection was taken to it. It is now put down for today, and appeared on the Order Paper this morning. Had it been desired to amend it or alter it in any way, and had I been given notice of the matter, I would have had time to consider it and to act upon it, but I am not going to enlarge the documents that are to be produced at this trial without having an opportunity of satisfying myself that the cause of justice demands it.
In answer to the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths), who asked whether, if we passed this 638 Motion tonight and it is found later that further documents are needed, I would say that it is usual for the Speaker, during a Recess or an Adjournment of the House—if application is made to him that certain documents are necessary to serve the cause of justice, and he is given an opportunity of examining the matter fully—for him to give leave.
That is the practice that has been followed hitherto, but I could not safely enlarge this Motion tonight, not having had a moment to consider it and not knowing what is intended. I think, therefore, that I should put the Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, seconded, I think, by the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst).
§ Mr. L. M. Lever
Before the Question is put, Mr. Speaker—as I shall not have an opportunity to do so once it is carried—I should like now to say how grateful the House is for the expressions of opinion that you have just given, that we welcome them, and that we are perfectly satisfied.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That leave be given to the proper Officers of this House to attend the trial of the action entered in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice and entitled Philip Barrington Dingle and Associated Newspapers Limited, Arthur George Wareham and Michael Kelly, and to produce and prove the Report of the Committee to whom the Manchester Corporation Bill was referred in the last Session of Parliament and the Journal of this House, so far as it is relevant to the said Report, and also the volumes of the Official Report of Debates appertaining to speeches and remarks concerning the Manchester Corporation Bill, and to give evidence verifying the same.