§ Mr. Foot
I would like to ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a question relating to the proposed Secret Session to-morrow. I wish to ask whether it is not the fact that any Member who repeated outside, even in private conversation, anything said in this House during a Secret Sitting would be guilty of a breach of Privilege or, alternatively, of a gross contempt of this House and would be liable to such penalties as the House is able to impose?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have been asked whether it is not the fact that any Member who repeated outside, even in private conversation, anything said in this House during a Secret Sitting would be guilty of a breach of Privilege, or alternatively, a gross contempt of this House, and would be liable to such penalties as the House is able to impose.
Before I deal with the specific point raised in the hon. Member's question, it may be well if I remind the House that the right to publish Debates which take place here has never been conceded by the House and it is only by the sufferance of the House that they are published in the ordinary course. Many Orders forbidding the publication of Debates remain on the Journals, and the House has expressly refused to waive this prohibition 1032 (Parliamentary Debates (1875) 224, chapters 48 and 1165). Some of these orders are cited in Erskine May, thirteenth edition, page 82, and others are referred to in footnote 3 on the same page.
These Orders refer primarily to publication in print and might not be held to apply to the disclosure of Debates in private conversation. I refer to them here as showing that the House has always claimed the right to control the communication of its Debates to the public.
With regard to the disclosure in private conversation of what has passed in a Secret Session, I should prefer to found myself on the fundamental rule of Privilege that wilful disobedience of an Order of the House constitutes a contempt of the House and may be punished at its discretion as a breach of Privilege.
A Secret Sitting is preceded by an Order 1 that strangers do withdraw, and also by a resolution that "the remainder of this day's Sitting be a Secret Session." The intention of the House that the proceedings at such a sitting should not be divulged could not be more clearly indicated. A Member who discloses even in private conversation what has taken place at such a Sitting will be wilfully disobeying an order of the House, and will be thereby committing a gross breach of Privilege. He will render himself liable to punishment by such of the penalties, within its power to inflict, as the HOUSE' of Commons deems to be appropriate to the offence—by reprimand, by commitment, or even—in an extreme case—by expulsion.
In order to complete my statement on the general position as I see it, I may refer to the Regulation prohibiting publication of the proceedings at a Secret Session made by Order in Council under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act. The penalties for a breach of this Regulation would, of course, be inflicted by a court of law, and it is no part of my duty to seek to determine what particular actions are covered by this Regulation. But I may say confidently that the statutory offence created by this Regulation is in addition to the offence subsisting under parliamentary law, which would be constituted by wilful disobedience of an Order made by this House, and does not have the effect of ousting the jurisdiction of the House to punish the offence committed against itself.
§ Sir I. Albery
Arising out of the statement you have just made to the House, Sir, may I ask what would be the position of a Member who had attended the Secret Sitting conversing with a fellow Member who had not been present?
§ Mr. Denman
With regard to the procedure to-morrow, I understand there is to be a short discussion on the Motion that we go into this Secret Sitting. Will that be reported or will the Reporters' Gallery be cleared?
§ Mr. McEntee
What would be the position of a Member who was present in the House if he conversed with a Member who was not present in a tone of voice loud enough to be heard by somebody else?