§ SIR C. RUSSELL (Hackney, S.)
I wish to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether, in view of the interest expressed on both sides of the House on the subject of the protection of witnesses before Parliamentary Committees, the Government would bring in a Bill to deal with the matter, or give facilities for the discussion of the two Bills which stand on the Paper for Second Reading?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I must thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for having given me notice of this question, and say, that while I quite recognise the importance of the point raised, by the Bill of the hon. Member for Chester, and by that which the hon. and learned Gentleman has himself introduced, I do not think it would be possible to divert Government business in order to give time for the discussion of these measures, important though they may be. It seems to me that the House might adequately deal with the matter if it would take the Second Reading of the Bill without opposition or prolonged discussion on the understanding that both, when read a second time, should be referred to a Select Committee. The question is one of great importance, because it cannot be disguised that while both Bills in terms preserve the jurisdiction of the House, the practical result of passing 1779 them would be to destroy that jurisdiction. Further it is proposed to give to witnesses before Royal Commissions, and before Parliamentary Committees, a kind of protection which has never yet been thought necessary for witnesses before the ordinary Criminal and Civil Courts. If the House will accept the suggestion I throw out it may be a solution of the difficulty agreeable to all and would not involve any loss of Parliamentary time.
§ SIR C. RUSSELL
I personally will accept the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, and would remind him that, as regards witnesses examined before Courts of Justice, the Judges possess powers to protect them by processes for contempt of Court.