The following Notice of Motion stood upon the Order Paper:
That this House doth agree with paragraphs 1 to 14 of the Report of the Select Committee on Witnesses."—[The Prime Minister.]
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Mr. LUNN
On a point of Order. Before this Motion on the Select Committee on Witnesses is moved, I wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is your intention to take, at the same time, the discussion on the second Motion which stands on the Order Paper relating to withdrawal of documents:That no document received by the clerk of any select committee shall be withdrawn or altered without the knowledge and approval of the committee.That this Order be a Standing Order of the House."—[The Prime Minister.]The first Motion refers to paragraphs 1 to 14 of the Select Committee's Report, in accordance with the terms of reference, but the fifteenth paragraph is the subject of a separate Motion and that Motion gives power to add to the Standing Orders of the House.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
May I respectfully reinforce the inquiry of the hon. Gentleman opposite, and also ask you, Mr. Speaker, to bear in mind the very distinct issues which are raised in the Report of the Select Committee to the House on the one hand, and a definite amendment of our Standing Orders on the other? The House will take a decision on the 704 Report of the Select Committee on Witnesses and that decision will stand as part of the general public law of the House and part of the cases upon which that law is interpreted. But an addition to the Standing Orders is an addition which will have to be brought before the House with every Session and will form part of our explicit public procedure. May I respectfully submit the difference between the two, in order that you may give due weight to the inconvenience which might attach to a discussion of the two matters together?
§ Colonel GRETTON
May I also call your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that the paragraph which is the subject matter of the second Motion and of the proposed new Standing Order, being somewhat outside the terms of reference of the Committee, the Committee can only bring the matter to the attention of the House in this way and could not include it in the terms of the Report?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Simon)
I apprehend that a separate decision will have to be taken by the House on each of the two Motions, and it is, at least, theoretically conceivable that the House might agree to one and not to the other. I rather understood that the question put by the hon. Gentleman opposite was whether it would not be to the general convenience that any discussion should be on the first Motion.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
That there should be a free and general discussion upon the first Motion would certainly be for the convenience of the House. But supposing different sets of opinions were to arise on the Second Motion there will also require to be a discussion of that and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not suppose that anyone is entering into any agreement that there should be no discussion at all on the second Motion, even 705 if a general debate is allowed on the first Motion.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
As regards the point of Order which has been raised, on this occasion as on all occasions of this sort I am entirely in the hands of the House. The only thing I can do is to give the House advice and they can take it or leave it as they like. It appears to me that as these two Motions are framed on the same Report, it would probably be for the convenience of the House that they should be discussed at the same time. It is true that the first Motion asks the House to agree to the Report of the Committee whereas the second Motion asks them to frame a new Standing Order on a recommendation in the Report. It appears to me, however, that the one is founded on the other and that it would be just as well to discuss them together. As the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has pointed out, the House will have to vote separately on these Motions and, if when we come to the second Motion, some question arises which has not been mentioned in the original discussion, obviously any hon. Member would be at liberty to express his views upon it as a fresh subject.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I beg to move,That this House doth agree with paragraphs 1 to 14 of the Report of the Select Committee on Witnesses.Following on the suggestion which you, Mr. Speaker, have made, I will offer one or two observations in the effort to assist the House upon the matter which is brought before the House by these two Motions. The Motions will, of course, have to be taken in their turn and decided by separate votes, if any vote should be found necessary. This question arises out of the Report of the Select Committee on Witnesses, a unanimous Report which was rendered to the House recently. The Report has made certain suggestions and the Government now bring those suggestions before the House and invite the House to consider whether they should not be adopted. The Committee of Privileges which was appointed in the summer of last year reported on 6th June, 1934. When the Committee made its Report certain Members of the House, while they fully accepted the decision of the Committee of Privileges on the particular case that was then being 706 considered, none the less expressed some concern lest the effect of some general observations, made in the report of the Committee of Privileges on the Sessional Orders involved, might seem to confine the operation of these Sessional Orders in the future to too limited a scope, might confine them to what are sometimes, I believe, called judicial Committees, Committees of the House which are engaged in conducting the more strictly judicial operations of the Assembly, or confine them to witnesses who were giving evidence on matters of fact as distinguished from offering a statement of their opinions. That is the reason why the Select Committee on Witnesses was appointed at the end of last year.
Now, Sir, we have the report of this Select Committee, which is a unanimous report, the Committee having been composed of Members drawn from all quarters of the House, and the Committee, as the House will have seen, has analysed these general observations contained in the report of the Committee of Privileges, and more particularly the part of that report which is contained in paragraphs 21 and 22. The House will see that for convenience the Select Committee on Witnesses has reprinted in its own report paragraphs 21 and 22 of the report of the Committee of Privileges, in an appendix which is to be found on page 9. What did the Select Committee on Witnesses find about the matter? I may summarise it by saying that the Committee found that the general observations which were made by the Committee of Privileges in fact fell under two distinct heads. In the first place, they contained an interpretation of the relevant Sessional Order, the first of the two Sessional Orders, what I may call the Order about tempering, in relation to communications passing between witnesses and any other person, a person who might be outside the House, a member of the public, indeed the class of cases which hitherto are the only cases which have been considered by the Committee of Privileges. In the second place, they pointed out that there was also in the general observations an interpretation of the general Privileges of the House, a duty which rests upon us all, not because of the language of any particular Sessional Order, but because we have a body of duties which lie upon us in re- 707 lation to the communications passing between Members of a Committee of the House before which a witness is going to give evidence and the witness himself. Those are the two classes of case.
On the first of those heads, the Committee of Privileges, they point out, has drawn no distinction between judicial and non-judicial Committees or between witnesses of opinion and witnesses of fact. In effect, what the Committee of Privileges reported was that any interference with a witness constituted an offence under the Sessional Order, and they defined interference in broad terms which will be found in the paragraphs to which I have referred. The Select Committee thought those broad terms are sounder and more comprehensive than any of the alternative suggested definitions which had been brought before them as possible amendments of the Sessional Order. It followed, therefore, that the view of the Committee on Witnesses on this matter is that it does not need a change in the Sessional Orders at all, though it would be very desirable to define what I may call the common law of the House of Commons, the interpretation which we put upon them as expressed by the Committee on Witnesses.
On the second head, the Committee of Privileges, they point out, did draw a distinction between different kinds of Committees and witnesses. For the first time in the history of Sessional Orders these orders have been made the ground of a charge against members of a Parliamentary Committee in the discharge of their functions as members of such a Committee. Hitherto the language of the Sessional Order has always in practice been applied to persons who were not Members of Parliament serving on a particular committee, Every Member of the House who has sat on a Committee on a Private Bill or on the Committee on Public Accounts is conscious of the distinction which in fact exists between different kinds of Committees so far as the conduct of Members of those Committees is concerned. But this question of what I describe as the common law of the House of Commons, important as it is, has nothing to do with the Sessional Orders themselves. It depends on a very much broader view of what is the proper way in which every Mem- 708 ber of Parliament ought to discharge his duties.
These Sessional Orders do not lay down rules of conduct for members of Committees. It would be impossible and undesirable to attempt to put fetters on ourselves by any such strict and confined lines as those. It is the interpretation of the Sessional Orders and the Privileges of the House which is set out in this unanimous report, and the Motion on the Paper invites the House to confirm that view by adopting paragraphs 1 to 14 of the Report. The result of passing the Motion will be that the House will have received the Report of the Committee and have adopted the unanimous interpretation which is found in it, and we shall make it part of the common law of the House of Commons that it is the spirit and intention of the Sessional Order. Our colleagues serving on the Select Committee unanimously recommend that that is a much better course than attempting to rewrite the Sessional Order.
The remaining question, as has been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), is a distinct question. I agree that it is not only a distinct question in the sense that it is not the same question, but that it deals with a rather different kind of issue. The question is whether or not we should add to the Standing Orders of the House a further provision which is discussed in paragraph 15 of the Report of the Committee on Witnesses. That question has nothing to do with the Privileges of the House, but it is a suggestion, which I commend to the House, that we should adopt as a Standing Order the rule which would make it impossible for documents once submitted to a Select Committee to be altered or withdrawn without the approval of that Committee. It appears to the Government that the unanimous Report made by the Committee on Witnesses is one which should receive the approval of the House. It is a matter for the House of Commons itself to decide, and the counsel which we offer to the House is that we should first approve paragraphs 1 to 14 of the Report, and then agree to a distinct Motionthat no document received by the clerk of any Select Committee shall be withdrawn or altered without the knowledge and approval of the Committee,709 and agree to that Motion becoming a Standing Order of the House. I do not think any useful purpose would be served by my dealing with the matter further. The Report is available for all of us and has been studied by all who are interested in the matter, and I hope that the House may think well to accept the advice of the Government and to adopt both these Motions unanimously.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
While I was listening to the statement of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, I could not help reflecting what an invaluable thing it must be to have had a prolonged legal training. There was the right hon. Gentleman making his opening statement to the House, with every sentence perfect, every argument and point seeming in itself complete, and yet I do not suppose that any hon. Member who had not followed this matter closely would have gathered from that speech that anything in particular had happened or why this Motion was brought before the House at all. A certain amount of rigmarole this way and a certain amount of rigmarole that way, a few affable expressions and friendly gestures, and the House is rapidly invited to dispose of this matter. But there is a great deal more in it than that, and I shall endeavour to amplify, perhaps rather than traverse, the description which the right hon. Gentleman has given of the Report of the Select Committee on Witnesses and of its relations to the Report of the Committee of Privileges which, the House may remember, we discussed last year. I see the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General present. In winding up on the Third Reading of the India Bill he referred to me as a disappointed litigant, haunting or frequenting the courts of justice with his case. Who is the litigant who is frequenting the courts of justice on this occasion? It is the Government who come forward with this Motion. I have no power to bring it before the House. It is the Government, it is the successful litigant, frequenting the courts of justice, driven by very shame to make this tardy but partial act of reparation. That is the position in which we are in.
This great Government, with its overwhelming majority, master of all political and social forces which are dominant to- 710 day, has been compelled—I cannot tell why it has been compelled, or what forces remote and inherent in the Constitution have driven it forward—to put down this Motion to adopt this Report and to put upon the Paper a definite admission to the Standing Orders. It must have been very repugnant to them, and it certainly constitutes an admission, however veiled, however politely expressed, which I should have thought was most damaging to their general credit and position in regard to this controversy. I am looking round for my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). Here he is, waiting in the House of Commons on a Friday afternoon to discuss a "mare's nest," brought before Parliament by the Government. The Government of the day are keeping alive this "mare's nest." I can hardly refrain from saying, "I told you so." I am delighted to find myself in agreement with His Majesty's Government on this matter. I think the steps they are taking, so far as they go, are steps which it is indispensable for them to take. This Report of the Committee on Witnesses is a commentary upon the earlier Report of the Committee of Privileges. My complaint was that the Report of the Committee of Privileges put a new and a strained interpretation upon the Standing Orders. I also complained—I am not going to dwell upon this, although it is strictly relevant—that the evidence was suppressed and that the correspondence was printed in an unfair form. Let that pass. My complaint was, as the House will probably remember, that the Committee of Privileges had placed a new and strained interpretation upon the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and that but for this strained interpretation they could not have reached the conclusion which they submitted to the House and which the House afterwards adopted.
The Committee of Privileges exculpated the Secretary of State for India from the charge of breach of Privilege on two main grounds; first of all, on the ground of the distinction between judicial and non-judicial committees, and, secondly, on the distinction between evidence of fact and evidence of opinion. They tried to make something out of the fact that, though he had endeavoured to tamper with the witnesses, in fact the witnesses had not been tampered with; that the 711 witnesses had not had their judgment finally swayed by the attempted process of tampering. That was not a very substantial point, and the Committee rested, and wisely rested, I think, on the distinction between judicial and non-judicial and on the distinction between evidence of fact and evidence of opinion, and, on that, paragraphs 21 and 22 of this re port were written, a mixture of legal subtlety and ingenious casuistry which constitutes a web so tangled that it was perfectly clear that it could not afford any guidance to the House or to future Parliaments as to the correct conduct to be pursued by members of House of Commons Committees or by witnesses before those committees.
This ingenious and elaborate fabrication of arguments which figures in paragraphs 21 and 22, served its purpose at the time, but it was evident to all who understood these matters, and took care about the rights and wrongs of these matters and their merits, apart from the triumphs and failures of political warfare, that paragraphs 21 and 22 could not stand as being any foundation for what my right hon. and learned Friend has called the common law of Parliament. I can only quote my evidence which I gave before the Committee on Witnesses. I explained to them the difficulty in which the Committee of Privileges were put; on the one hand, were these very distinguished gentlemen, and, on the other, were the plain facts that they had broken the Privileges of the House of Commons, and there was the strong and unduly striking language of the old-fashioned Sessional Orders, and it was put to that Committee that the language should apply to these distinguished gentlemen. In my evidence, which I gave to the Committee on Witnesses, I explained the process how the Committee of Privileges drove a coach and four through the law of procedure of the House of Commons and conveyed their distinguished Friends to safety, leaving behind them this litter and this débris which the new Committee had to be set up in order to try to put right and to gather together.
That is a fact. We may not like it, but there we are. The Government have been forced to appoint this new Committee on Witnesses, and the Committee on Witnesses has utterly demolished the two main pillars upon which the report 712 of the Committee of Privileges rested, namely, the distinction between judicial and non-judicial and the distinction between evidence of fact and evidence of opinion. What an absurd thing that you should try to pretend that you can distinguish between judicial and non-judicial Committees of the House of Commons, and that you can leave the procedure in this way, with no protection for the proper conduct of any Committee that is dubbed non-judicial. It was quite impossible in the first instance to find any line of distinction between judicial and non-judicial. I invited the Committee on Witnesses to draw a line if they could, but they very properly rejected that invitation. All the thought and care of the Noble Lord the Minister of Thought—I mean, of course, the Minister without Portfolio—was devoted to this matter, without his being able to find any distinction between judicial and non-judicial. And obviously it would not be in the public interest to do so. All Committees of this House ought to be conducted in a proper manner, and all witnesses and members of Committees ought to comport themselves, whether the Committee can be called judicial or non-judicial, in a manner which is considered to conduce to the proper attainment of the purposes which the House of Commons has in view.
The two main pillars of the Report of the Committee of Privileges have been pulled over. Whatever anyone may contend in this debate, and no doubt we shall have a lot of statements contrary to that fact, the Report of the Committee of Privileges is hopelessly weakened and undermined in regard to these two main conditions. By the adoption of the Government Motion, which we are all going to support, though we cannot possibly reach a decision on this matter to-day, the reasoning in paragraph 21 is publicly and decisively repudiated, and the future procedure of the House is free from the laboured, irrational, and not specially ingenuous trammels in which it would have been confined by paragraph 21. But that is not all. More than that, a specific new Standing Order is found to be necessary preventing the withdrawal of documents which have been deposited with a Committee from that Committee without the knowledge or assent of that Committee. I wonder that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham 713 (Sir A. Chamberlain) did not notice that. I am quite sure that, if it had occurred to him, he would not have hesitated, but he, with his great knowledge of this House, overlooked altogether that this was a loophole which had to be stopped. There is no dispute about it; you do not require numbers to back up a thing like this. The Government had to put down this Motion, and, by putting it down, they have made it absolutely clear that they admit that an impropriety was committed, and that the need has arisen for a new specific Standing Order of the House of Commons to prevent such things ever occurring again.
I must say that, when I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks that the Government were engaged upon a tardy act of reparation, I was perhaps wrong in using the word "tardy," because it is more than tardy—it is too late. The Bill out of which this controversy arose is practically through. The Lancashire case has gone by default. If the Report of this Committee on Witnesses had been before the House of Commons at the time when the House considered the Report of the Committee of Privileges, it is inconceivable that more justice would not have been done to the case which, at very great personal exertion and with much personal regret, I brought before Parliament. Of course, it has now gone down to the past; it is done; you have got your Bill, your triumph of resolution and so on. This comes on afterwards; Justice is done after the evil has occurred. But I would like to look in the face some of those gentlemen of great knowledge who enforced this brazen assertion upon us, and ask if they could conscientiously say that in the face of the facts and arguments brought forward in this report they would have adopted the same attitude as they did.
There is one other thing I should like to say. We are proposing an additional Amendment to the Standing Orders. It seems to me there ought to be another, and that is that Ministers of the Crown ought not to sit on the Committee of Privileges in respect of cases where the conduct of one of their own colleagues is impugned. I would not say that without making it perfectly clear that I am making no aspersion upon the conscientious manner in which my right hon. Friends did their duty on that Committee. I do not agree with the 714 view they took, but I am sure that any bias that they showed was unconscious or subconscious bias. It is always a great mistake to put people in a position where human nature may be too highly tried. We are not dealing with the past. We are dealing with the future. You may not always have Ministers of this high character. You may not always have Ministers who can be quite free from any form of bias. We must legislate for the weaker brethren of Ministerial life as well as for the paragons, and it seems to me that it would be a very salutary thing, and I hope the Government will consider—as they are in the mood of repentance to-day—adding another Standing Order that no Minister should sit on the Committee of Privileges if the conduct of another Minister of the Crown is impugned. It puts everyone in a false position. It is not everyone's reputation that is so firmly established as to be able to stand such shocks and temptations without disquietude and with impunity.
I felt very keenly my treatment at the time by the Committee of Privileges and by the House. I thought there was in Parliament one of those moods that I detest of all swinging against one man. I have seen it several times and have never shared it—the sort of idea that if you can get enough people together you can browbeat and cow an individual though he is acting strictly in accordance with his constitutional rights. What I felt most was the way in which the Foreign Secretary commended the report of the Committee of Privileges to the House. No one, I think, was more capable, both from his legal and political experience, than the right hon. Gentleman of seeing through the absurdity and the manifold complications of paragraphs 21 and 22 of the Committee of Privileges report. But my right hon. Friend imported prejudice into that discussion and accused me of wishing to ruin the Secretary of State at a time when I stood almost alone in the House. I regret that.
Circumstances have changed, and I do not wish to pursue the right hon. Gentleman in these days, as I would if the matter had been raised a little while ago, but I may take this opportunity of saying, which I had not before, that I absolutely deny any intention of ill-will towards the right hon. Gentleman. I 715 have never felt anything but personal admiration and regard for him, and I feel it hard that at a moment when I stood almost alone this matter of prejudice should have been imported into the discussion. It seems to me that when one is fighting for great public issues, and when wrong things are done against the cause for which you are fighting, any Member of the House is bound to act without any question of personal ill-will and do his duty to the utmost in interpreting in their full rigour the resources which the free constitution of Parliament gives him. That is the only thing which has actuated me in the matter. It was far from my mind and my heart to have the slightest personal ill-will towards my right hon. Friend, and still less towards Lord Derby, who was also involved in these matters.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Certainly not. On the contrary, I contend that my contention has been made good, and certainly I would never dream of apologising when I have been entirely in the right. I have been absolutely right, and I must say, as the hon. Gentleman interrupts me, that at every stage I made it clear that there was no imputation upon the personal honour or character of Lord Derby.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman must not pursue that subject, which is not strictly relevant to the Motion before the House.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No, Sir. Thank you very much for the very great indulgence which you have permitted in the circumstances. I venture to say—and I have practically finished my argument—that this Motion should be accepted by the House. The report is a very dull report, and very pale in its reference to the Select Committee, but I declare to Parliament now that no competent and impartial jurist could read those two reports without saying that the Report of the Committee on Witnesses undermines and ruptures the foundations on which the House arrived at its conclusion last year. I support this Motion which the Government have brought forward, and I congratulate them upon having had the courage to endorse a report which 716 reflects upon the reasoning on which the Committee of Privileges acted and which stigmatises with plain and undoubted censure, the manhandling of the Lancashire evidence before the Joint Select Committee.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY (Minister Without Portfolio)
I think that I should out of courtesy to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), as Chairman of the Select Committee, say a word on the speech which he has made. My right hon. Friend accused the Deputy-Leader of the House as having made a speech which was so very clear but which had no relation to the background. I think that my right hon. Friend may be accused of making a speech which may have had a lot of relation to background but very little relation to the Report under consideration. My right hon. Friend was concerned, and concerned on personal grounds with which we all sympathised, to argue that this report justified his contention on a particular issue which has already been unanimously decided by the House. The report of the Committee of Privileges, to which he has referred, was accepted unanimously by the House, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping did not even vote against it, and really I should like to say on behalf—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
If it is going to be made out that I accepted the report because I did not divide against it, I must protest against such a contention. I gave full reasons why I disliked the Report, and the mere fact that one is not strong enough to divide the House, or that it is not worth while to trouble the House by putting it to a division, should not justify a suggestion that one agrees with it.
§ Lord E. PERCY
As the right hon. Gentleman interrupted me in the middle of a sentence, he perhaps did not realise the gist of my remark. It was that, having been unanimously accepted by the House, it was no part of the duty of the Select Committee on Witnesses appointed by this House to concern itself with that issue, and we are here to-day dealing with a question of a general interpretation of the Sessional Order of this House, and of the general Privileges of this House. With that 717 interpretation I gather that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping agrees. He wishes to adopt this Report. He supports the Motion which has been made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy-Leader of the House, and he is only concerned to point out that, in his view, this report confirms his own view on that old issue. So far as that is concerned, I must leave him to draw his own conclusions. It does not matter to me whether he accepts this report because of what is in it, or whether he accepts it because of what he thinks he can read into it. On that he must form his own conclusion, but he is not entitled to misquote the report which is before the House.
My right hon. Friend repeats that the Committee, in its general observations, based its whole case on the distinction between judicial and non-judicial committees, and between witnesses of fact and witnesses of opinion. It is not the case, as is pointed out in the report before us, and there is one paragraph in that report—indeed, more than one, but only one which I will read, which my right hon. Friend persistently ignores, and continues to ignore, that is, the statement that the advice given by the impugned Membersat no time took the form of pressure or intimidation or interference of any kind with the freedom of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and of the other bodies associated with them to form and express their own opinions honestly in the light of all the facts that were known to them.That, the Report of the Select Committee on Witnesses finds, was the real foundation of the general interpretation placed upon the Sessional Orders by the Committee of Privileges. The distinction between judicial and non-judicial committees, and between witnesses of opinion and witnesses of fact, arose solely as a consequential issue, because of the fact that the person against whom these charges were made were members of the committee, and, that being so, the Committee of Privileges were bound, having decided the issue on the Sessional Orders, to go on to consider the subsequent question of whether, although they had in no way interfered with the freedom of the witnesses, yet, in spite of that, their conduct might have been conduct inconsistent with their position as members of that particular kind of Committee. That is a perfectly clear statement of 718 what we find from the Report of the Committee of Privileges. With regard to the recommendation which the Select Committee made as to the new Standing Order, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping said that this was a confession that there was an irregularity in the proceedings of the Joint Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I would reply on that, let us be clear what the reason for this new Standing Order is. It has nothing to do with the question of privilege. It is not suggested that it is improper for a witness to revise his evidence or withdraw it. It is not suggested that it is improper for a Committee to afford him facilities for doing so. Indeed, I do not suppose that there is any Committee which would refuse such facilities. The only object which the proposed Standing Order has is that such alterations may be a legitimate ground for cross examination when the witness eventually appears before the Committee and that the knowledge should be made known to the members of the Committee. That is a general principle which I think will commend itself to the House.
Whether there was any irregularity in that respect in the conduct of the Joint Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform—which, by the way, was not conducted under the Standing Orders of this House but under the Standing Orders of another place—is a question which I do not want to inquire into here, but I would say this, that this House commissioned that Joint Select Committee to sit under conditions unparalleled in any Committee that had ever been appointed by this House: to sit jointly with Indian delegates and to go through a procedure which was wholly exceptional and unique in the proceedings of Committees of this House. If I had been told at the beginning of that Joint Select Committee that under those extraordinary conditions only one procedural step would be taken by the Committee which could be regarded by anyone as anomalous, I should have said that that was a very sanguine estimate. I think that in the circumstances the step which was taken and the arrangements which were made by the Joint Select 719 Committee and by the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on this point were the best arrangements that could have been made, but, and I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is desirable that this particular point, on which some doubt may have arisen, should definitely be set right by a Standing Order of this House.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I desire to say on behalf of my colleagues on these benches that we associate ourselves with the Motion before the House. There is one point beyond that mentioned by the Noble Lord of which I am sure the House will take account. It is set out in paragraph 11 of the Report, on page VII. As the Noble Lord has said, our business was not to consider an issue that had been dealt with by the Committee of Privileges. That was not our charge. Our charge was to see, in view of what had happened, what the position was in regard to the Standing Orders of the House. In the paragraph to which I have referred the Committee found:that the distinction between judicial and non-judicial committees and between witnesses of fact and witnesses of opinion a found a place in the Report of the Committee of Privileges solely because the complaint which they were commissioned to consider was a complaint against a member of a Committee";but we came to the conclusion thatNeither of these distinctions can be regarded as relevant to the purpose of the Sessional Order.I think that distinction may fairly be emphasised to-day. Whatever interpretation we place upon the word "tamper" is not determined by the business which happens to be the business of the Committee. Whether the Committee's business is judicial or administrative is beside the point. The question is whether or not the rules as to tampering with witnesses should apply. In our view there should be no distinction, so far as we may interpret the orders of the House, with regard to the undesirability and wrongness of tampering with a witness, whatever the form of tampering may be. It was because of that that we put into the Report an extract from the Committee of Privileges, which is to be found on page 7 and which is a clear exposition of the underlying meaning of the word "tamper," which if the 720 report is adopted will be embodied in the interpretation put upon it by the House. With regard to the other matter, I have nothing to say except to express my concurrence with what the Noble Lord has said with regard to paragraph 15. It is of the first importance that in a matter of that kind there should be no dubiety, and it is in order to remove any doubt that the Committee felt that this alteration should be made.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
I shall only detain the House for one moment and I do so only in order to ask a question on what the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has said in his speech. Let me remind the House that my right hon. Friend made a very serious charge against certain members of the Select Committee some months ago, a charge which I may sum up in a word; that by every kind of corrupt influence and intimidation—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The remarks of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) are entirely irrelevant to the discussion before the House.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I hope with great respect, although you have ruled that the remarks are irrelevant, that I shall be permitted, as the charge has been made against me, to say that never at any time have I suggested the slightest corruption or dishonesty on the part of any of the parties concerned.
§ Mr. AMERY
The Committee, with whose report we are now concerned, have made it clear that they are not concerned in differing with the Committee on Privilege in their conclusions on the main issue. There is a minor issue with which they are concerned in para. 15, and that is whether documents submitted to a Select Committee should be modified without the formal consent of the Committee itself. That seems a very desirable recommendation, and if that is the only grievance of the right hon. Member for Epping, who raised 721 the issue some months ago, I am sure he will welcome with satisfaction that this minor grievance is now to be remedied. I have never understood, however; that that was the issue and it was with reference to the other matter that I described his previous performance as a mare's nest.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. EMMOTT
I should hesitate to intervene in this Debate but for certain statements made and arguments used by the noble Lord the right hon. Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). He took strong exception to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping and suggested that my right hon. Friend's speech, though it had much to do with a somewhat indeterminate background, had little to do with the Motion on the Paper. I entirely disagree, and I refer the noble Lord to paragraph 14 of his own report, which is in these terms:Your Committee further venture to recommend that, for the removal of doubts, the House should, by resolution adopting this report, give formal approval to the interpretation placed in it upon the Sessional Orders and upon the relevant paragraphs of the report of the Committee of Privileges.Surely if that paragraph means anything it means that the House in approving this report should approve a certain interpretation of the Sessional Order and of the Report of the Committee of Privileges. The whole question of the interpretation of the Sessional Order and of the report of the Committee of Privileges opens the very matters into which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) went. Therefore, the whole of the old question, if you like to regard it as an old question, is open now.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The question whether the report of the Committee of Privileges should be accepted or not has been decided by a vote of this House and cannot be re-opened.
§ Mr. EMMOTT
With great respect, I am not making any attempt to re-open that matter. If I have used any words susceptible of that interpretation I regret it. I am pointing out what is the implication of the 14th paragraph of this very report, and am not at all attempting to re-open the question of breach of privilege, which was of course decided last year. The Noble 722 Lord himself this afternoon stated that the question now involved is the question of the general interpretation of the Sessional Order, and it is upon that question that I should like to address a few observations to the House. The Noble Lord stated that the circumstances in which the Joint Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform was appointed were unparalleled circumstances, suggesting, if I understood him rightly, that they might never occur again. But they may occur again, and in any case Sessional Orders stand and must be applied in future to any circumstances that may arise.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) in the argument that he used this afternoon completely destroyed the basis of the argument which was addressed to the House upon art earlier occasion. I refer to the occasion when the report of the Committee of Privileges was discussed. The distinction then taken was between judicial committees of the House and committees which are not judicial. A distinction was further taken between witnesses who appear before a Committee to give evidence of fact and witnesses who appear to state opinion. That was the argumentative ground upon which the report of the Joint Select Committee of Privileges was commended to the House. Now the implications of that argument extend into the future. They are not concluded here and now. They are the implications upon which the House in the future will base its procedure.
§ It being Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.