HC Deb 03 August 1909 vol 8 cc1707-10

I desire to submit to you certain statements made at the meeting of a public company which in my opinion reflect upon the Members of this House, and to ask your ruling as to whether they do not constitute a breach of privilege, and as to whether I shall not be entitled, after reading the statements, to move accordingly? I notice in "The Times" of Saturday last, 31st July, in connection with the annual meeting of the Great Eastern Railway Company, that the chairman used the following language:— During the last few years, when railway companies had introduced Bills into Parliament with a definite object, they had been met by certain sections of the House of Commons, notably by so-called Labour members with every sort of demand which they did not desire to have included in the Bill, and which if included would prove very prejudicial to the interest of the railway company whose Bill was being considered. Now the intention of Parliament when Parliamentary Committees were first instituted was really not an intention of that kind. Railway companies simply desired that the measures which they submitted should be considered from the public point of view upon their merits. This system of endeavouring to saddle those Bills with every sort of stipulation had had a most prejudicial result not only to the railway companies themselves, but to the public at large, The directors of this company had given their solicitors instructions under no circumstances whatever to advise them to introduce a Bill into Parliament unless it was absolutely necessary. Other railway companies were doing the same thing. Now if those so-called Labour leaders would consider what an effect this had upon the very class whom they professed to represent and upon the general trading interests of the country, he really thought they might be inclined to change their present attitude. To take their own circumstances. They had a large number of public obligations which they would like to fulfil—new stations, also additions to stations, new works and various facilities—mainly for the benefit of traders and the trading public. This would give a large amount of work to contractors and to the skilled and unskilled labour which would necessarily be employed, and those works when completed would also give fresh facilities for the development of trade it the district. Owing to the action of this party in Parliament the whole of these enlargements were hung tip and they had no intention of proceeding with any of them until they could feel sure that if they did introduce a Bill they would receive fair play. This is not all. It will be remembered that a two nights' Debate took place in connection with an Amalgamation Bill, in which all sections of the House were very much interested. The President of the Board of Trade eventually decided to accept the suggestion that this Bill should be referred to a hybrid Committee of 16 to advise, and the chairman of this railway company makes the following statement:— By accepting the proposal that instead of a hybrid Committee of nine, the Bill should be referred to a hybrid Committee of 16; the moment that concession had been made, the chairman felt that before such a Committee they could not possibly expect to receive fair play. Now, seeing that this Committee had to consist of 16 Members drawn from all parties in the House, I wish to ask whether it is not a reflection upon the House as a whole that it should be said by the chairman of a public company that it was not possible from such a Committee to receive fair play, and whether such a statement is not a breach of Privilege, and, if it is, whether I am not entitled to move that this House record its opinion that such statement was a breach of Privilege?


The statements which the hon. Member has read out would appear certainly at first sight to reflect on the possible want of impartiality on the part of a Committee of this House. I do not say that they are not capable of some explanation, but under ordinary circumstances I should not feel it my duty to stand between the hon. Member and the Motion which he has stated that he is desirous of making. But I must remind him that in these matters of breach of Privilege the House is very jealous, and that it does not allow them to be brought forward except at the earliest possible moment. Of course, if the hon. Member had the opportunity of raising the question he would occupy a very considerable portion of the Government time for allotted business, and probably it is for that reason that the House has laid down the Rule that these matters must be raised at the earliest possible moment. This speech was made on Friday. The report of it appeared on Saturday. Therefore the hon. Member really should have raised the question yesterday. If he can find an opportunity for himself of raising it he is at liberty to do so, but he must find his own time to do so.


I do not wish to challenge your ruling on the point, but I wish to state that my notice was not called to the speech until yesterday afternoon, and I made it my business to bring it to your notice at the earliest possible moment; and I want to ask you whether, in view of those circumstances, that I was

not aware of the fact that the speech had been made until late yesterday afternoon, I do not come within the corners of the Standing Order governing such Motions, which says:— A Motion on a question of Privilege may be made before the commencement of public business, although the question does not suddenly arise, but any such Motion should be made on the earliest opportunity.

I want to ask you whether, in view of the fact that I did not know of the speech until yesterday afternoon, I have not availed myself of the very first opportunity that was open to me under the circumstances?


"Earliest opportunity" clearly means "yesterday." The hon. Member should have read his "Times" on Saturday.