§ *(5.25.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
On Saturday last a Special Report of the Select Committee on the Hours of Railway Servants, together with the evidence, was circulated to hon. Members, from which they will have seen that the Committee have reported that a certain railway servant, John Hood, was dismissed by the Directors of the Cambrian Railway Company mainly in consequence of charges arising out of the evidence which he gave before the Committee last year, and for which he was subsequently called to account and censured by some of the Directors and by the Manager of the Company. As Chairman of the Committee, I wish to give notice that it is my intention to call the attention of the House to that Report as a question of Privilege. Since that Report was presented the Committee have had before them two other cases in which it is alleged that certain railway servants belonging to the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants have been dismissed from their offices in that Society, or otherwise injured, on account of the evidence given before the Committee. The Committee are now examining these cases, and will, I hope, shortly decide whether or not they shall make a Special Report upon them. Therefore, I do not now name a day upon which I shall call attention to this first Special Report, because I think it would be for the convenience of the House and fairer to all parties that the whole subject should be considered together; but I hope there will be no unnecessary delay in the matter.
§ *(5.26.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Special Report already presented is not in itself an absolutely complete document dealing with the whole of the evidence relating to certain specific cases; and whether he is not aware that a Report of this 596 kind upon which a Motion of Breach of Privilege may he based, might, if indefinitely postponed, prejudice, if it did not oust, that Report from its position in the ordinary proceedings with regard to Privilege; and whether it is usual that a Report of a Committee such as this, which is admittedly complete and final in its character, should be indefinitely postponed on the chance of other questions which have been brought before the Committee being similarly reported on at a later stage of the Session? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, to re-consider his decision; and whether, in re-considering his decision, he will not name the earliest possible day for dealing with the Report in accordance with the usual course in cases of Privilege?
§ *(5.27.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I apprehend, Sir—but of course it is not a matter on which I can give an opinion—that no delay in dealing with the subject could oust it from its position as a question of Privilege; and that whatever time the House may decide to deal with it, it will still retain its position as a question of Privilege. On the other question of the hon. Member I will say this: The Special Report already presented deals with all the cases of alleged intimidation that have been brought forward by one side. The Committee are now engaged in considering and taking evidence upon other cases of the same kind which have been brought forward by the other side; and, as Chairman of the Committee, I think that both these cases should be considered together, instead of the House being asked to entertain the question of Privilege on two different occasions.
§ (5.28.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I have been very much surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman talk of "sides" in this matter. It does not seem to me to be a question of "sides" at all. As I understand a breach of the Privileges of this House is supposed, or alleged, to have been committed by certain persons; and I see no reason why that matter should not be considered at once by the House without entering upon a question of recrimination between sides in the matter. It seems to me we ought as far as possible to avoid the consideration of what the right hon. Gentleman has called "sides" 597 on this question, and deal with it impartially as a matter relating to the privileges of this House. I do not know what your view of the matter is, Sir; but I have always understood that it is a fundamental Rule of this House that questions of Privilege should always be brought forward at the earliest possible moment, and for reasons that are perfectly obvious. I confess I see no reason why this case should be made an exception to that Rule, and more particularly on the grounds suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ (5.29.) MR. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
I should like to ask you, Sir, as a point of order, is it not a Rule of this House that no reference should be made here to proceedings before Committees upstairs until the Committee have reported to the House? The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned a fact known to him and to the Committee, but not known to the House, as to certain proceedings now taking place.
§ *(5.30.) MR. SPEAKER
I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Committee have reported upon a case which they think touched upon Privilege, and that they are now discussing another case, which might also be one of Privilege, and that it might be for the convenience of the House to discuss them together. I know nothing of the special case before the Committee; but as to the question of Privilege there must, of course, be no undue delay in the discussion of such a question. The Privilege, however, will, of course, adhere to the question when it comes before this House.
§ (5.30.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I do not know whether I need put what I have to say in the form of a question, or that I need enter into the matters upon which the questions of Privilege arose. There is, however, a remarkable distinction between them, and that is, that one of them was brought forward and reported upon to the House before the other was actually started. I do not know whether that bears upon the question under discussion; but, considering the length of time which it took the Committee to deal with the first question of privilege, I think it is extremely probable that 598 several days, and possibly two or three weeks, will intervene, and that Easter will arrive before this second question, which was started after the other question, can be reported upon and dealt with by the Committee.
§ MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
May I ask you, Sir, whether it would be in order for any Member of this House to bring a question of breach of privilege before the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
Any Member can bring such a question before the House, but it would be for the House to decide whether it should be dealt with.
§ * MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
In regard to the reply which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the questions put to him, I would submit that the proper person to act in these matters would be the Chairman of the Committee, and I still hope that he may re-consider his decision; but in consequence of his reply I shall have to consider with some reluctance whether I shall not put down a Motion that this Report be taken into consideration on Thursday [Several hon. MEMBERS: No; to-morrow] — well, then, to-morrow, unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to make a similar Motion himself, in which case I would of course most gladly give way to him. There seems to be no justification whatever for postponing the consideration of these questions of privilege, with which the House is in a position to deal without delay.
§ * MR. MORTON
Mr. Speaker, I quite agree with you; and supposing that the Chairman of the Committee should neglect what you seem to consider to be his duty in this matter, I will bring the question forward myself, that is, of course, if the hon. Member for Northampton does not do so to-morrow.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Newington, W.)
As one of the Members of the Committee I join with the hon. Gentleman in the expression of the hope that the Chairman of the Committee will move in the matter without delay. We have already presented a Special Report, which suggests that a breach of Privilege has been committed, and consequently I consider the time is now ripe for dealing with it. I would also venture respectfully to suggest that the 599 Chairman of the Committee would be the best person to deal with it.
§ MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has taken into consideration the fact that, in addition to the cases he mentioned, another case was brought before the attention of the Committee which cannot possibly be inquired into until after Easter. There seems to be quite a vista of these cases coming before us.
MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)
I should like to ask why, as in the case of the forged letters to the Times, the question of privilege should not have been brought forward to be dealt with as soon as possible after the offence had been committed?