HC Deb 05 February 1941 vol 368 cc950-4
Colonel Gretton

Yesterday I called the attention of the House to a question of Privilege arising from a letter published in the "Times" of 31st January, sent by a firm of solicitors on behalf of their client, Mr. Weininger, who was one of the witnesses appearing before the Select Committee on the Conduct of a Member. I feel a difficulty in carrying the matter further, as I am a Member of the Committee of Privileges, and this may be a matter that may come before that Committee. I have, therefore, asked my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) to explain the circumstances to the House and move the Resolution that may be necessary.

Mr. Spens

I have here a copy of the "Times" of 31st January last, containing the letter in question, to which I desire to draw your attention, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Member bring it to the Table?

Whereupon the hon. and learned Member handed the document to the CLERK OF THE HOUSE, who proceeded to read it, as followeth:


To the Editor of the Times.


In your issue of January 22 you published the report made by the Boothby Select Committee, and now that the debate in the House of Commons has terminated we are asked by Mr. Weininger, for whom we act as solicitors, to refer to one of their conclusions which personally and seriously affects our client's character. The conclusion is that in which it is stated that our client promised to pay Mr. Boothby a considerable sum of money in return for services to be rendered by way of political speeches and pressure upon Ministers and Treasury officials. This, were it true, would be an odious as well as a serious charge. Mr. Weininger has, however, no means of dealing with it other than through us and, as we trust we may expect, through the publicity which the Times always affords in a proper case.

Mr. Weininger's answer is that there is absolutely no foundation for any such conclusion. He gave evidence at length before the Committee and at no time, nor by any question addressed to him, was it suggested that such a bargain existed. We would recall that in the first instance our client, who had known Mr. Boothby for some years, approached him in a purely business capacity as a member of a well known and reputable financial house in the City. Mr. Boothby was to try to negotiate with the Czech Government the release of the Weininger family assets blocked in Prague. With the entry of Germany into CzechoSlovakia this became impossible, and the agreement between Mr. Weininger and Mr. Boothby came to an end. Thereafter the position of Mr. Boothby's personal finances became exceedingly acute and there followed the promise by Mr. Weininger to assist him to the whole extent of his personal fortune. This promise arose out of the undoubtedly deep and true friendship between the two men and was unclouded by any base suggestion of services to be rendered.

These are the facts as we know them, and we trust that you will deem it only fair that they should be recorded through the medium of your newspaper.

Yours, &c.,


Lennox House, Norfolk Street, W.C.2.

January 30."

Mr. Spens

You, Mr. Speaker, and the House will appreciate that that letter was written for publication in order to challenge, on behalf of Mr. Weininger, the existence of any facts for one of the principal findings of the Select Committee. In support of this challenge, there is a carefully prepared and concise statement of the story originally put before the Select Committee by Mr. Weininger and by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). That was the story which the Select Committee investigated and which they were unable to accept by reason of the existence of other evidence, contemporary and otherwise, which drove the Committee to find other and quite different facts. The facts so found by the Committee and the other evidence on which those facts were found were fully set out in the Report of the Select Committee, which was published on 21st January last and was approved by this House by the Resolution of 28th January last. None the less, in this letter, which is dated 30th January, and was published on 31st January, the writers repeat the Weininger version of the story, and continue: Those are the facts as we know them. And they ask that they should be recorded through the medium of the "Times." I respectfully suggest that for a responsible firm of solicitors to write a letter for publication in a newspaper directly challenging the existence of facts for the findings of a Select Committee of this House after the Report of the Committee has been approved by the unanimous Resolution of this House, to support the challenge by the statement that the facts are as they know them, and to put forward the version which has been given in evidence and not accepted by the Select Committee, is a very serious matter. It clearly is intended to make the public believe, by the repetition of this partial statement, that there was no foundation for one of the principal conclusions formed by the Committee and approved by this House. It reflects, I submit, both on the manner in which the Committee fulfilled the task entrusted to it and the propriety of the approval by this House of the Report of the Select Committee. I respectfully suggest that it raises a prima facie case of breach of Privilege, and I would request your Ruling on it.

Mr. Speaker

I have listened carefully to what the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) has said, and I am hound to say that I have come to the conclusion that he has made a prima facie case for a breach of Privilege.

Mr. Spens

I beg to move, "That the matter of the complaint be referred to the Committee of Privileges."

Colonel Gretton

I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

It has come to my knowledge through a most reliable channel that a letter offering an apology to this House for the matters complained of is in preparation by those concerned. It has not been possible to produce the letter at this day's Sitting, and I therefore venture to suggest to the House that we might adjourn this discussion until a later Sitting, when I am sure the letter will be available and the House can consider whether it is acceptable.

Mr. Bellenger

May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, in a matter which is a corollary to your Ruling that a breach of Privilege has been committed by this Erin of solicitors? May I ask whether publication of this letter by the "Times" newspaper is also a breach of Privilege?

Mr. Speaker

I should say it was, but the facts will come before the Committee of Privileges rather than before me.

Mr. Buchanan

I rise only to say this for myself, personally. I think this thing has been laboured and raised wrongly. The whole thing would have been better left dead. The Committee's evidence was accepted. The letter is only to be taken as a partial statement. From my point of view, the whole thing has been unduly and unnecessarily laboured, and I think we would be well advised not to raise the matter at all, because I do not think that the great mass of the people will pay any attention to what is a very partial statement.

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the remark made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) that certain information has come to his knowledge, may I be allowed to say that information has come to my knowledge from a very reliable source that the fear of exposure of corruption, which is rotten and widespread, arising out of this case was one of the reasons for the suppression of the "Daily Worker"?

Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed upon the first Sitting Day after 9th February.