HC Deb 31 July 1902 vol 112 cc287-9
MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

May I ask your opinion, Mr. Speaker, on a matter of practice and procedure? In the "Votes and Proceedings" of the House there appears this morning this entry— Imprisonment of a Member—Report from the Select Committee, with minutes of evidence Mild an appendix, brought up and read; Report to lie on the Table and to be printed. I suppose what occurred was that this Report was handed in at the Table informally under the new procedure, and not brought in as in former times from the Bar by a Member walking up the floor of the House. But my point is this. I apprehend that this is a matter of privilege, and it will, of course, be impossible to discuss the Report of this Committee until the Report and the evidence are printed and circulated; but I raise the question immediately so as to safeguard my right to raise the question of privilege the moment the Papers are circulated. I have to ask—Will it be competent for me, on the first day the Papers are circulated, to raise the question as a matter of privilege of the consideration of this Report?


The hon. Member was good enough to mention this point to me yesterday, and I have looked into the precedents and have come to the conclusion that the practice is not to treat questions concerning the Report of a Committee which has been asked to report on a question of privilege, and to whose Report objections are raised, as a matter of privilege. There are two precedents, not very recent cases, but the two most recent. They are the case of Mr. Dwyer Gray in 1882, and that of Mr. Sheehy in 1888. In both, these eases a Committee was appointed. In both the point was one of breach of privilege. The Committee reported, and on both those cases there was a desire on the part of some Members to discuss the Report. In neither case was it raised as a matter of privilege. In those cases two Leaders of the House of great experience—Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. W. H. Smith—were interrogated by two other Gentlemen who were also consider able authorities on the practice of the House—Mr. Sexton in the one case, and Mr. Childers in the other. In neither case was the matter treated as a matter of privilege, but the Leader of the House was asked to give priority to a Motion dealing with the Report. In the case of Mr. Gray Mr. Gladstone refused to do it, and no attempt was made to treat it as a matter of privilege. In the other case—the case of Mr. Sheehy—the late Mr. W. H. Smith declined to make any Motion himself, but he said he would, put down the subject matter, the Report of the Committee, for consideration by the House at an early day, giving any I Member who desired to discuss it the opportunity for making a Motion. It was not treated as a matter of privilege at all. This present case does not, therefore, in my opinion, raise a matter of privilege, and the hon. Member cannot discuss the Report except by the assistance of the Leader of the House.


On the question of privilege I will say nothing more, but I should like to explain that in referring to the precedents of Mr. Gray and Mr. Sheehy I found that the discussions appeared in Hansard under the heading of "Privilege," and they were brought forward at the commencement of business at the time when privilege can be discussed. Passing from that, I will ask the Prime Minister whether he, following the precedent set by Mr. Smith, will put down the Report for consideration on some day before the holidays, when a Motion can be moved and the subject discussed.


I should be sorry to give a favourable answer to that question without more consideration than I have been able to give to it. I am not aware that there are any particular circumstances in the case that require the time of the House for their discussion, but in any case it could not be done before we part for the holidays.


My case is founded on precedent. In the case of Mr. Sheeby, when the Committee reported an appeal was made to the Leader of the House at the time, to which he responded by setting down a notice the very next day. I hope the present Leader of the House will not depart from that precedent.


I shall be glad to examine the precedents set by Mr. Gladstone and Mr. W. H. Smith in connection with the question of privilege. I did make myself acquainted with the subject generally, but the case of Mr. Sheehy has passed out of my mind. I do not know whether it resembles the present case.


There is, of course, more urgency in the present case, inasmuch as the Member concerned is suffering imprisonment, and the House of Commons, if it disagrees with the Report of the Committee, can put an end to that imprisonment. That makes the case urgent.