§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Special Report [23rd July] from the Committee of Privileges be now considered."—[Mr. Herbert Morrison.]
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I realise that within the narrow ambit of this Motion the Debate must be limited, but, nevertheless, there are one or two questions which are in Order which I desire to put to the Leader of the House; and, no doubt, he will answer them. Those of us who were on the Committee of Privileges agreed, as it was our duty to do, to Mr. Schofield's being reported to this House for his refusal to answer a question; but we believed at the time that his case and that of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Allighan) were to be taken simultaneously, or as nearly as possible simultaneously. It would, obviously, be completely out of Order to attempt to discuss, even in a roundabout way, the cases of the hon. Member for Gravesend and of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden), because they are not in the Motion, and, therefore, we cannot discuss them; but I think one is entitled to submit that these two cases and that of Mr. Schofield are completely intermingled, and I cannot see how it is possible properly to discuss any one of them separately.
Therefore, my first question which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will answer is, why, when we are being asked to discuss this Motion, we are not being asked to discuss the cases of the hon. Member for Gravesend and of the hon. Member for Doncaster, and why those cases have not been tabled for discussion? I hope that in so doing, it will be in Order to ask, Mr. Speaker, and in Order for the right hon. Gentleman to answer, this question: What is the position of those two cases? Is the hon. Member for Gravesend still ill? He has given interviews to the Press, and an hon. Member opposite announced—I do not know if it is true—that he was in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think we ought to know before we agree to this Motion, when these cases are to be taken. It would, of course—and I would not dream of making the suggestion—be wounding and injurious to suggest that anyone is sheltering those 2268 two hon. Members, but we ought to have the reason why we are not now to discuss those cases. The right hon. Gentleman the other day brought a charge of impetuousness against me on this question. I suggest that it is slightly impetuous, to put it mildly, and very illogical to take the lesser case of Mr. Schofield and to leave the major case of the hon. Members who have been convicted of a breach of Privilege by, at any rate, a majority of the Committee of Privileges.
I would only in conclusion say that, surely, the right hon. Gentleman and the House do not want to give the impression that they are willing to strike at a Tory journalist but afraid to wound their own supporters. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] There is no reason for supposing that that would be their attitude; I am sure it is not. But on the face of it, it would give that impression. At any rate, we ought to have an explanation. Those are the questions to which I want an answer. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen will have plenty of time to interrupt in the course of the Debate if they want to start interrupting. They will have plently of opportunity in the Debate. Those are the questions. Whatever hon. Members opposite may say—no doubt having sat up all night—I propose to put those questions, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that they are perfectly fair and reasonable questions to ask.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I want to dissent from the view expressed by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) that there is any connection whatever between the matters raised in the major Reports, and the matter raised in the Special Report. It seems to me, with respect, that the point raised in the Special Report has. no connection of any kind with the other matters, except for the circumstance that it happened to arise in the course of the examination of those witnesses, rather than in any other case. The point might have arisen in any case. It might have arisen in the case of any Member or any other inquiry, or, indeed, in a case of an inquiry by any Select Committee, and not merely by the Committee of Privileges. It seems to me that the point that the House has to decide—and I do not want to discuss it now: it is not my business to do so—is the question 2269 of the view the House may ultimately take about the refusal of witnesses, duly summoned, to answer questions before the Committee in anybody's case, and that question is of vital importance.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I have some hesitation in speaking in connection with questions of Privilege, which I have always felt are better dealt with by more experienced Members of the House than myself, but I want to say one or two words on the subject before the Leader of the House replies. I rise to make no party point about this. This is something which affects the whole House of Commons. I think that before we proceed to the discussion of the Special Report we want just to pause for one moment to consider whether we are wise in doing so. This Special Report deals with a minor issue, only one incident; and that is, perhaps, a rather small and narrow incident in a very much bigger picture. Mr. Schofield, the gentleman referred to in the Special Report is only one character, a small, minor character compared with the other characters who are dealt with in the other Reports, with which we shall deal later.
The point which we are, I understand, going to discuss is the propriety or otherwise of Mr. Schofield's refusing to answer a question. We are all going to be parties to that decision. Whatever that decision may be, it will be given by the House, and we shall all be parties to that decision, however inexperienced and however junior we may be in this House. I want to say this. Before I came to a decision on the propriety or otherwise of Mr. Schofield's refusal to answer a question, I should like to look at the whole picture and see the whole case. I do feel that very strongly. I do not know what action the House may decide to take with regard to Mr. Schofield, but I think that, before we come to any conclusion, that decision should not be taken until we have seen what the general background is; and that we ought to decide what relative blame attaches to Mr. Schofield and what relative blame attaches to the other gentlemen.
I am not trying to be controversial about this. I think this point was put up. May I give one illustration of the kind of thing I have in mind? I do not know what explanation Mr. Schofield might give for refusing to answer the question. 2270 Suppose the answer was that the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden) had asked him not to answer the question. That might be an explanation put forward; indeed, I think it may be the explanation. Surely, we cannot decide whether one alleged criminal has done something wrong unless the other alleged criminal—and I do not use the word "criminal" derogatively—the other man against whom an accusation is made, is there to be tried, too. We have to put ourselves in the position of judges in this matter. The hon. Member for Doncaster, the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Allighan), Mr. Schofield and Mr. Dobson were all somehow concerned in a general picture. If I were a judge I should hesitate a long time before agreeing to decide to try one of them before the others had been brought forward too. If I attempted to do so I should be in some danger of seeing a miscarriage of justice take place. I simply rise now to make those points, and to ask the House to consider very seriously whether we are wise to go on and consider this narrow issue before the major issue has been determined.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
I should like to reinforce that plea for the following reason. It is very difficult to determine the truth of the allegation on the narrow issue, that the witnesses refused to answer a question, without going into the larger issue of whether the House will agree with the Committee of Privileges in the other case. If the House disagrees with the Committee of Privileges in the other case, then no offence has been committed. I am not arguing that for the moment, and I am not making a party point. Suppose for the moment the House does disagree and an offence has not been committed—I do not know, of course, what the House will do—then, while the refusal of Mr. Schofield to answer the question may constitute a technical offence, the question of what punishment, if any, follows assumes totally different proportions and character from what it would have if an offence had been committed. It is impossible to determine what punishment, if any, is to be meted out without knowing the full circumstances of both cases.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)
This seems to me to be a rather simple matter. 2271 As far as we know the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Allighan) is somewhere in South Africa. It is obviously right that his case and the case of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walk-den) should be considered together, and that, therefore, those two cases should be postponed until we know the exact whereabouts of the hon. Member for Gravesend. The Committee of Privileges have reported to the House that Mr. Schofield refused to answer a question put by the Committee. That matter is hanging over his head. Is it right, fair, or just to keep that matter hanging over his head for perhaps two months? Again, whether Mr. Schofield, rightly or wrongly, refused to answer the question has nothing whatever to do with the cases against the hon. Members for Doncaster and Gravesend. Therefore, on common sense grounds and on grounds of equity, the House should proceed to consider the case of Mr. Schofield.
§ Mr. Speaker
I should like to point out, first of all, that the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) was probably out of Order, because the merits of the case are to be discussed on a later Motion. We are now discussing whether the House should consider the Special Report, and the merits of the case do not enter into it.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Naturally, I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and with greater ease because I have said what I wish to say upon it. The argument I was advancing was directed towards the Motion,That the Special Report [23rd July] from the Committee of Privileges be now considered.I was urging the House to take the view that, on balance, it would be better if it were not considered. That was all I was arguing.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member also argued that under certain conditions the people concerned might or might not be guilty, which falls within the scope of the later Motion.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
I only wish to say, quite simply, that I agree with the line the Leader of the House has taken. I think it would be a great pity if we did not take this Special Report 2272 into consideration at once. My reason for saying that is, that in this Special Report, we are not considering what penalty attaches to the substantive offences, whether committed by either of the two hon. Members or by either of the two journalists. What we are considering is, to my mind, purely the bare question of principle, whether or not we will support our Committee in asking questions and demanding answers.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I am sure the House will forgive me if I remind all my colleagues, in all parts of the House, that we are now sitting as the High Court of Parliament, and it is profoundly important that in any discussion which takes place the House should maintain a high judicial tone, and be fair and scrupulous in the matter with which we are dealing. The fact is, there is before the House a Special Report, and the reason it was a Special Report was because it raised a special and somewhat isolated issue—which has been stated quite fairly by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), with whom I entirely agree—namely, what has to be done about two witnesses who did not answer questions put to them by the Committee of Privileges. That is the simple issue and it is important for the House to have answers to those points before dealing with the substantial issues against the two hon. Members concerned, otherwise the House will not be in possession of the fullest available information from the witnesses. The only other thing I would say is, that I was sorry the noble Lord—because he and I are good friends; in our quieter moments, anyway—even mentioned the possibility that I might have in my mind the politics of the newspaper concerned. My attitude would be exactly the same if it were a Socialist, a Liberal or any other sort of newspaper. I am sure the House will accept that, and I hope that I may do my very best to approach the matter in a truly judicial spirit.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I am sorry to delay the House, but I think that on this matter we each have a personal responsibility, and it is important to try to get the thing clear. I am not 2273 sure whether I am unnecessarily muddled over this or not, and I think possibly one question might be answered which might clear the thing a little. That is to say, I would wish to agree wholly with the Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid), but the difficulty I feel is this. Suppose one just plainly and simply accepts their view, is one thereby at all precluded from doubting whether a breach of confidence about a party meeting is or is not a privileged matter?
§ Mr. Neil Maclean (Glasgow, Govan)
On a question of Order. Are we discussing the question of Privilege or whether or not two individuals should be brought to the Bar of the House?
§ Mr. Speaker
I did give a word of warning earlier that we were merely discussing whether this Report should be now considered, and that is all. I should have thought these rather intricate points were more appropriate on the later Motion. The House will know, of course, that according to precedent, it will be my duty to ask certain questions of these two witnesses when they appear, and on their answers we can form our own judgment. It does seem to me somewhat a pity if we cannot first get those answers and then discuss the matter more fully.
§ Mr. Maclean
Is not the issue before the House a simple one, namely, whether or not the Committee of Privileges have power to request individuals to answer questions? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am speaking, and I will put the point in my own way. What we, as Members of this House, have to determine today, in regard to the refusal to answer these questions, is what powers the Committee of Privileges have to punish these individuals.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the hon. Member is wrong. The only point we are considering is whether this Report should now be taken. Whether the Committee of Privileges have acted rightly or wrongly is a matter which will come under a later Motion. We are not deciding that now in any way.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I think that I was in Order and I think it is the universal opinion now that one of the views I was 2274 putting was the right view, that is to say, that the question whether or not the Committee of Privileges had a right to put questions on this matter is not in any way affected by the decision upon this Motion. I thought it not wholly a waste of time to make sure that that was the plain view.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Special Report considered accordingly.
Motion, made, and Question proposed:
That Mr. Guy Schofield and Mr. Stanley Dobson do attend this House forthwith."—[Mr. H. Morrison.]
§ Earl Winterton
On a point of Order. There are one or two questions I wish to ask, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] This is the British House of Commons, and any Member, even if he is expressing a singular view, has a right to ask questions. I do not know whether they should be put to you, Mr. Speaker, or to the Leader of the House—I am certainly endeavouring to be uncontroversial. I think the House should be advised in advance of what procedure is going to be followed. Are questions to be addressed by you, Mr. Speaker, to the two gentlemen, both of whom are persons of high repute, apart from whatever offence they may have committed here, and are they to be addressed—? [Interruption.] I am asking for information. Are questions to be addressed by the Leader of the House, and if so, will it be open to every Member who may hold a contrary view from the Leader of the House as to the gravity or otherwise of the offence committed to address questions? Since the House have listened to me quietly, may I also say that there has been a very unfortunate history in the past, which has affected more than one of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, and more than one Leader of the House, when this House has acted incautiously in bringing members of the public to the Bar. If there is anything to be learned from the past history, it is that this House should be clear on what exactly is to happen when these gentlemen come to the Bar.
§ Mr. Speaker
It would be simpler if I answered the question, seeing that I have to ask the questions. We have followed precedent, and we have examined the precedents most carefully in this matter. 2275 If the House chooses to order these members of the public to come to the Bar, it is my duty to ask them certain questions. These questions will not, I hope, be leading questions in any way, but will merely bring out the case and very much help the House in coming to a decision. When they come to the Bar, I tell them that I have to ask these questions. I put the questions, and ask them for their answers. I then ask them to withdraw, and we discuss the matter having heard their answers. I do not think it can hurt the witnesses or the House in any way. I can assure the House that I have looked at this question fairly to see that fair play is done on all sides.
§ Mr. Cecil Poole (Oswestry)
May I put this point in order that the dignity of the House may be maintained? I think it would be undesirable, in view of what the noble Lord suggested might happen, if Members of this House constituted themselves either counsel for the prosecution, or counsel for the defence, by asking supplementary questions. I am merely expressing the pious hope that that will not happen,
Mr. Procter (Eccles)
I make no apology for wishing to have this matter made clear as far as I, personally, am concerned. I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is the intention of the House to ask these two gentlemen, when they appear at the Bar, the questions they refused to answer before, because in my humble submission, before any questions are put, this House should decide whether or not the witnesses were right to refuse to answer the questions.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ The Serjeant at Arms informed the House that Mr. Guy Schofield and Mr. Stanley Dobson were in attendance.
§ The Serjeant at Arms then brought the two witnesses to the Bar.2276
§ Mr. Speaker
I have to ask you, Guy Schofield, and you, Stanley Dobson, the following questions, to which you will each reply separately. First, did you refuse to answer the Committee of Privileges when they asked you to disclose the name of a Member of this House from whom you obtained information?
§ Mr. Speaker
The second question is this. Did you then understand that your refusal to answer any questions put to you by the Committee of Privileges constituted an undoubted contempt of this House?
No, Mr. Speaker, I did not. Since you now tell me that it is so, I should like to offer to you, Mr. Speaker, and to this House my humble apologies.
No, Mr. Speaker. I did not realise it at the time. For any offence I have committed, I wish to offer unreservedly to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House my humble apologies.
§ Mr. Schofield and Mr. Dobson then withdrew accordingly.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I beg to move:That the refusal of a witness before a Select Committee to answer any question which may be put to him is a contempt of this House and an infraction of the undoubted right of this House to conduct any inquiry which may be necessary in the public interest.I move this Motion in a declaratory form in order to establish a principle that 2277 shall be known by all. I want to be scrupulously fair to the two gentlemen we have just seen. I think it is fair to say that there is some room for doubt whether Mr. Schofield and Mr. Dobson were made fully aware by the Committee of Privileges that in declining to give the Committee the information for which they were asked, they were guilty of a contempt of the House. Though the existence of this rule should have been generally known, and might have been clear from some of the questions which were put to the witnesses, there were other questions and remarks in the proceedings which might have led them to think that the matter was one for the House as a whole to decide. The point is not one on which any doubt can be allowed to continue. It should be cleared up, and the Motion is to make the position entirely clear for the future as regards any Committee of the House, and not simply the Committee of Privileges.
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming (Manchester, Withington)
Were either of these gentlemen, or both, warned, before specific questions were put to them, that it would be a breach of Privilege if they did not answer?
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I think that Members who have read the proceedings of the Committee will agree that I have given a fair summary of what took place. The whole record of the proceedings, except the private deliberations of the Committee, in respect of witnesses, are on record in the Report of the Committee of Privileges. I think that what I have said is a fair summary of what took place.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
I have no desire to raise any complaint at all as to the manner in which the Lord President of the Council has just moved this Motion. On the contrary, I think he did it with studious fairness but, at the same time, I must say that I think we can easily exaggerate the knowledge which the world in general has of a rule such as this. So far as I am aware, the last time this procedure was enacted "was, I think, in 1897 which, after all, is a long time ago. It would not have been very much use to me to have had that instruction at that date, nor to a great many other Members of this House. Therefore, 2278 when the Lord President told us that everybody knew about all these things I wondered how many Members of this House were aware of that rule, let alone those who were not Members of this House. That is not all. I have read the evidence carefully and I am bound to say—although I do not say it in criticism—that had I been one of the witnesses I would not have thought that by refusing to answer the question I was in any way treating the House with contempt. The Attorney-General put the point with fairness in Question No. 1092 of the Select Committee's Report, which I will read because it is relevant to the situation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, to Mr. Schofield:I am sure all the Members of the Committee would feel that this is a matter for your own conscience on which they would not wish to press you, because they have no power to do so. Their only power is to refer it to the House, which might feel compelled to press you. I am sure we all realise how extremely difficult these conflicting loyalties are.All I have to say about that is that if that had been put to me in that form I certainly would not have understood that by refusing to answer I should be treating the House with contempt. I think it is only fair to say that. This is in no sense a party matter. We are, in this matter, a court of justice, and I certainly would not wish to associate myself with censure of an individual for not answering a question when he failed to understand that contempt was involved.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)
I am not controverting for one moment the main proposition which the right hon. Gentleman has put before the House, but in this case we adopted a somewhat unusual arrangement, whereby one of our number on the Committee—sometimes it was the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid), sometimes the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), sometimes the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), and sometimes myself—put questions on behalf of the whole Committee. That was by arrangement. We asked questions on behalf of the whole Committee in a form which the whole Committee agreed was proper. Therefore, the questions were not 2279 so much my own as those of the Committee. I mention that in order to call attention to another question which I asked of Mr. Schofield, Question No. 1648.
§ Mr. Eden
I was not at all saying that this was the Attorney-General's personal contribution. What he has said strengthens my view that the Select Committee having put questions in a particular form, as a Committee, these individuals cannot be censured for not answering them. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just referred to Question No. 1648, to which I wanted to refer. As further evidence that the witnesses did not realise the gravity of the questions they were being asked, I would point out that Mr. Schofield said, according to this Question:Would it be possible for me to see the M.P. concerned (I do not know to what extent he is even aware of what has happened here)"—and, rightly, the Committee told Mr. Schofield that he should consult nobody—and put it to him that if he chooses he can volunteer information to this Committee?That was for the purpose of trying to get the information which the Committee wanted. That was accepted by the Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio, and there is a note on the bottom of page 96 stating:Mr. Schofield subsequently informed the clerk that he had spoken to the Member concerned, who was not prepared to allow his name to be disclosed.I did not intervene earlier on this as I thought that we were then deciding whether to consider the Report. But I say now that, in my opinion, the witnesses, in not answering the question, were not aware of the contempt of the House of which it is now suggested they should be aware. I cannot associate myself with any censure of their conduct in that respect, but so far as this Motion is concerned with the future I should be prepared to support it.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I shall move, shortly, a Motion which, I am sure, will meet the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps I should have said so before, but I thought that as I was moving one Motion I should not talk about 2280 another. If the House adopts the Motion which I have moved as a declaration, so that we shall know where we are, I will move another Motion which, I think, will commend itself to the right hon. Gentleman and the House.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
The Motion I propose to move, if the Motion now before the House is carried, is:That in the circumstances it is not necessary to proceed further in the matter.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
Like the Leader of the Opposition, I am one who does not know what are the rights of the Committee of Privileges concerning the ordinary citizen. When the ordinary citizen is summoned before the Committee of Privileges is he under an obligation by law, and, if so, what law, to answer any questions that are put to him; and what are the penalties if he refuses?
§ Mr. Morrison
One of the purposes of this Motion is to make clear what is the Parliamentary law, and the custom of Parliament; and any punishment Parliament wishes to inflict, it can inflict. Let there be no mistake about the full authority of the House in these matters.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
I hope that the House will bear with me for a few moments because this Debate is one that goes to the very root of the profession of which I am a member. Confidence is the very basis of the best kind of journalism—confidence between editor and contributor, confidence between the ordinary journalist and anyone giving him information. Mr. Schofield has had an opportunity of stating to the Committee of Privileges the reasons why he was reluctant to supply answers to the questions put to him, but he has had no such opportunity today. I ought to add that I have no personal knowledge of Mr. Schofield or Mr. Dobson, and I do not think that I have ever seen either of them until today.
This question of professional confidence is of the utmost importance, particularly in the case of that able, responsible and trustworthy body of men, the Lobby Correspondents. It happens again and again that a Member or Minister makes 2281 some communication to a Lobby correspondent and adds, "Of course, keep my name out of it," and of course, the correspondent does keep his name out of it, as any honourable man is bound to do. Here there is an obvious conflict of loyalties, the loyalty of professional confidence and loyalty to Parliament as expressed through the Committee of Privileges. I submit that there may be cases in which a journalist, even though he may also be a Member of this House, would be justified in declining to answer a question put to him by the Committee of Privileges.
Let me put the case at its highest. Suppose an editor has accepted an article from a contributor on the express undertaking that the authorship of that article should not be disclosed. That often happens for reasons not in the least discreditable. It may be that the writer does not wish to give pain to friends by something he may feel it necessary to cover; it may be that he would not be allowed to return to a foreign country if he were known to have been criticising it; or it may be that he does not want to identify his business or other associates with his views. All this is a perfectly proper procedure. Supposing that a journalist or editor, having given that undertaking, is called on by the Committee of Privileges to violate his pledged word, he is faced with an agonising choice, and it is not for me to decide which way the answer should go. It is a question of conscience and this House has been very generous in recognising the conscience of all members of the community. It has recognised conscience in the case of the conscientious objector, and in the more trivial case of anti-vaccination, and I think that it would be going very far for any Select Committee of this House to call on any hon. Member, having given his pledged word, to violate it.
It may be said that this is a question not of express but of implied confidence. It may be said that an honourable tradition should not be invoked to cover a rather dishonourable arrangement. Let that be so. But my mind has gone back to some of the great journalists of previous generations, whom I or other journalists in this House would be glad to take as their guides and mentors, such as C. P. Scott of the "Manchester Guardian," or J. A. Spender, or of my own predecessors, 2282 the father of the present Minister of Food. What would have been their attitude if they were in the position in which Mr. Schofield found himself? I ask myself that particularly in regard to C. P. Scott because, in addition to being a journalist of the highest integrity and distinction he was also for many years a Member of this House. Neither I nor anyone, of course, can affirm today what Mr. Scott would have said or done, but my firm belief is that he would have said that, with the utmost respect for the Committee and for the House, and as a Member of the House, he felt himself compelled to refuse to disclose information which he had received in confidence.
That may be right or wrong, and I do not ask hon. Members to accept that point of view, but I ask them to realise how deep is the conflict of loyalty. After all the whole thing today is rather unreal. Mr. Schofield was asked at the Bar of the House what was the name of the hon. Member, and gave it, when we all knew that already since the hon. Member upon mature consideration—very mature consideration—had finally disclosed it himself——
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich)
Is it in Order Mr. Speaker, for the noble Lord to describe the proceedings of this afternoon as "the whole thing is a farce"?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is not a question of whether it is in Order or not. It is the noble Lord's opinion and that is all.
§ Earl Winterton
I always state my opinion in this House whether it is popular or not, if it is in Order.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
The noble Lord has admitted that he did say "the whole thing is a farce." Is not that the greatest reflection, Mr. Speaker, on your conduct in the Chair this afternoon?
§ Mr. Wilson Harris
For the reasons I have given, I, like the Leader of the Opposition, am prepared to accept the Resolution which the Leader of the House has moved, on the understanding which I hope was implicit in his words that there is contained in it no flavour of retrospective censure. This statement of principle is one which I can accept 2283 even though it might, in certain circumstances, bring me into contempt by taking the same line as Mr. Schofield and declining to give an answer which would involve a breach of confidence. On that understanding, I can readily support it, and I hope that it will pass without a Division.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
So far from thinking that what the House did this afternoon is a farce, may I be permitted to express my view, humbly, that the House discharged its function with conspicuous moderation, and conspicuous dignity, and did a great service to its prestige. I share entirely the view that anyone reading the report of the Committee and listening to the answers this afternoon would feel that neither Mr. Dobson nor his colleague had committed a very grave offence, or that the House would wish to offer any censure of any kind. I share the view that the questions as they were put were not such as to lead anyone to doubt in the least the truthfulness of the answers given this afternoon when both gentlemen said that they did not appreciate when they refused their answer, that such a refusal would be a contempt of this House. Accepting that view, and thinking that it is fully supported by the evidence in the Report, I think that this House would be quite mistaken to do anything at all in the way of censure in this matter. But having said that—and I say it with the utmost sincerity—all the same, it is a great pity that any doubt should now be cast on the correctness of the declaratory Resolution that has been moved.
The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) would have been well advised—I hope I can say this without giving any offence—not to make the speech which he made. It does seem as if there were some dissent. Maybe it was only half-hearted dissent, maybe it was not very clear dissent but there appears to be some shadow of dissent on what never ought to have been in doubt at all.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris
I made it perfectly clear that I am in favour of the Motion and will vote for it in the sense in which it was put by the Leader of the House, but as a journalist I submit that a case 2284 might conceivably arise where a journalist would be compelled to decline to disclose information he had received in confidence.
§ Mr. Silverman
I think all of us realise that there are occasions when a man of honour feels bound to commit an offence. That is his affair. If a man feels in his conscience that he ought to do something which everybody knows he ought not to do, that is for him to decide, but it has nothing whatever to do with the question we are discussing this afternoon. I am glad to hear from the hon. Member for Cambridge University that he was not seeking in the least to cast any doubt on the absolute duty of any citizen of this country summoned before the Committee of Privileges or any Select Committee of this House, empowered by this House to send for persons, to answer any proper question put to him.
Before sitting down may I say that I think all the lawyers in the House will realise that privilege based on the circumstances in which journalists obtain their information, could not be claimed in any other court. It could not be claimed in the High Court, in a libel action, or in the police court; it could not be claimed in any other court in the land and why in the world should anyone have supposed at any time that it could be claimed before the High Court of Parliament?
§ Mr. Wilson Harris
I claim no privilege whatsoever. If my point is not sufficiently clear I should like to make it so. It is that, while fully recognising the right of the Committee to ask such questions, a citizen might say that he could not, in honour, give an answer and he would be prepared to take the consequences.
§ Mr. Silverman
The question involved there is whether the House would feel it right to impose any penalty, and. if any penalty, what penalty. That has not anything to do with the question of what is the duty of the witness or whether any offence has been committed. That is, I hope, now absolutely clear as a result of their proceedings. The Attorney-General referred to what has become a practice at the Committee of Privileges.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am not a member of the Committee of Privileges and never have been, so that I speak with diffidence, 2285 but it does seem to me not to be a very good practice for the Committee of Privileges to delegate its right, or for each Member to abdicate his function to ask questions and get answers to four members of the Committee who happen to be leading lawyers. I hope that I am not putting it too strongly.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
Is it in order for the hon. Member to start a general discussion on procedure in the Committee of Privileges?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that the hon. Member was going to start a general discussion, but he was making a comment on what the Attorney-General said.
§ Mr. Silverman
That was my intention, and I would not have said it at all except for the intervention by the Attorney-General. He having been allowed to say it, I thought I might be allowed to say that as back-benchers we feel a little uneasiness and a little anxiety in case the Committee of Privileges, being a judicial body, should, nevertheless, become a little too much like a court of law to which people are summoned and are unrepresented, and in a strange atmosphere they may feel a hostile sense in not being represented in any way. I think it would be very much better if the Members of the Committee in those circumstances asked their own questions, and did not rely upon skilled assistance even though that skilled assistance may come from members of the Committee.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
I wish to rebut the point put by the hon. Member the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) in regard to the question of Privilege. I speak now upon that privilege claimed and upheld in the courts of law. It is true that the position of a medical man refusing to disclose evidence which has come to him in his professional capacity, although not technically a valid plea, has frequently been recognised as a point which may legitimately be put forward, although, as in this case, the court asserts its right as against anyone who might commit contempt of it by refusing information. There are certain traditions to which professional men feel a loyalty which involve them occasionally in conflict with the accepted law, and at that point it is a matter for the 2286 conscience of the individual. If he commits that contempt he does it in the knowledge that it will involve him in a clash and it may be in a penalty. It may be his duty to do so; it has often been recognised as such.
All I would say in regard to this special case is that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) raised the question as to why it should be brought up specially in this High Court of Parliament in respect of a particular offence. The answer is simply because in this High Court of Parliament the relations between those who are entitled to obtain information in the House for the public as a whole and those in whose special charge the information, which may be more or less confidential, is reposed, are of a special kind which will need special consideration on every occasion on which they come up. While I fully subscribe to the Motion which has been moved by the Leader of the House and the declaration of the state of the law of Parliament which is enshrined therein, I would still say that each individual case would need to be judged upon its merits and the relevance of the question asked and the position of the witness in refusing. All these matters could rightly be taken into account by the High Court of Parliament when reviewing the action of one of its Committees, because a Committee is merely a Committee of this House, and the final decision has to be taken by this House. In such a case I would claim that professional confidence of one kind or another is a thing which rightly should be taken into account by the House when finally making up its mind as to whether it should or should not proceed against one who has trespassed against one of the rules of its Committees.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
I am only a back-bencher in this House, and I rise to say with diffidence one or two general things. It seems to me that there can be no alternative to the unqualified declaration which we are asked to make, and equally it is undoubtedly true that in the courts of the law we recognise no privilege except that of the public interest in some cases and that of our own legal profession and the relationships that spring out of it in others. Here I agree with both the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel 2287 Elliot) and the hon. Member the Junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris). There is no privilege in connection with a journalist; there is no privilege as regards the' relationship between doctor and patient, and the even more intimate relationship that there may be in some religious instances. No such privilege is recognised by the law, and I do not see how this House, as the High Court of Parliament, can fall short of the law in demanding, when it thinks fit to demand, that information which is required in the public interest.
§ Earl Winterton
Would not the hon. and learned Member agree as a lawyer that, while it may be no defence, in fact, most judges, especially high court judges, do not press the point particularly where a certain religion is concerned.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am much obliged to the noble Lord for anticipating exactly what I was going to say. Though there is no formal privilege, the question of pressing for disclosure does, in fact, rest in the court on the judge. I think it is right to say that discretion is exercised in a sense most favourable to what is recognised to be honourable and confidential relationship. If courts can be trusted in this matter, then, surely, the Committee of Privileges can be trusted in the same way, and our security must lie not in qualifying the absolute duty of a person to disclose when called upon to do so, but in relying on our own Committee of Privileges to exercise in the matter that high discretion which we expect and get from judges, and not only from judges in the highest court. If it can be found in those cases, then we can rely on it in this case.
I want to refer to one other matter in a passage which has not been quoted from the Report of the Committee of Privileges. It is on page 69, and in question 1155. The question was put quite clearly and quite competently to one of these witnesses as the conflict of loyalities which the hon. Member the junior Burgess for Cambridge University rightly described. This matter must always, I think, be a conflict of loyalties. In a Protestant and puritan country such as this, we are surely entitled to say that there are times when every individual has the right to refuse to do that which it appears to be his legal duty to do, and that 2288 since the world has progressed, we differ now from that absolute obedience to the law which, in ancient Greece, Socrates held to be necessary.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Will my hon. and learned Friend answer one question? I thought I heard him say that it was for the court to decide whether the question of privilege arises, but is it not the case that if counsel asks a question and insists on an answer, and there is no actual privilege, then the judge would have no authority to do other than to insist that the witness should answer?
§ Mr. Mitchison
I should hesitate to discuss questions of law in this House. In practice, I think, whatever the strict law may be, the judge, in all the circumstances of the case does, in fact, decide. I am sure it can only be in the most exceptional circumstances, and in the most grave cases that counsel would feel justified in pressing for disclosure, when the judge asked him not to.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
As one who has spent his whole life in journalism and whose experience goes back for nearly 60 years, I would like to say one or two words before this matter leaves the House. I would like to express my entire agreement with the Motion moved by the Lord President, and, at the same time, I would like the House to realise the extraordinarily difficult position in which these two gentlemen were placed by the manner in which the questions were put to them by the Committee of Privileges. The editor of a paper is entirely responsible for everything which may appear in his paper, and he is under a binding contract with his contributors not to disclose their names except with their consent. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) put the matter in the most apposite form. He asked whether these two gentlemen were specifically asked if they realised that a refusal to disclose the name of their contributor meant a gross breach of Privilege of this House. If the question had been put in that form, the answer might have been different. Other editors have been placed in a similar position to these two gentlemen, neither of whom I know.
I say with great respect to the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges that if the 2289 question had been put in the form I have indicated, then the point of honour, namely, their binding engagement with their contributor, would have appeared in a different light. In justice to the two members of my profession who have been brought to the Bar of this House, and perhaps as a suggestion which may be of some use to the Committee of Privileges on other and similar occasions, I have ventured to put forward this point of view.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Reid
I think that if my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) examines the records of the Committee of Privileges he will find that, after learned counsel had examined the witnesses, other persons not so learned also asked questions and had full liberty to do so. As regards the two gentlemen brought before the Bar of the House, I must say that I sympathise with them in the dilemma in which they were placed in view of the allegiance which they seemed to think they owed. They did not act contumaciously in any way, and I am certain that they did not think they were committing contempt in not answering the question. In fact, as the evidence shows, they were told that all the Committee would do would be to refer the matter to this House. Therefore, I heartily support the Motion which has been moved to take no further action in the matter. [Interruption.] It is very difficult to hear, because there is such a noise going on. I thought it was to be moved that no further action should be taken, but that was because, sitting down here, it was impossible to hear what was going on. The Motion, where it says:The refusal of a witness…to answer any question,sounds very sweeping, when one considers the procedure before the Committee of Privileges is put into action. Mr. Speaker has to decide that there is a prima facie case of breach of Privilege, and no matter goes to the Committee unless there is a prima facie case. Therefore, the only questions to be asked are those which relate to the matter referred to the Committee by the House. I have pleasure in supporting the Motion.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
We are engaged in trying to make a declaration about the law of Parliament. I think the Attorney-General would agree with me that declaratory laws are rather notorious for needing 2290 definition and that the law of Parliament, almost more than any other soft of law, needs clarification from time to time. It is most necessary when we are engaged in that task that we should be meticulous about it. I hope that I shall not be considered to be excessively meticulous in the two things which I wish to say. The first thing I would say, and I say it by no means by way of criticising the Leader of the House—Heaven knows, even when one has looked the whole thing up and knows exactly the point one is on only a very rash man would believe that he ran no risk of error—is that the Lord President of the Council did slip into error on one point. If I am right, I hope that the error may be corrected before the Debate is concluded. When he was asked what sanctions could be imposed by Parliament, he answered to this effect: "Any punishment that Parliament cares or wants to inflict." I am not sure which way he put it, but that I think was a mistake. Further, to be accurate, I think he should have said, "The House of Commons" and not "Parliament." I should think that this House has given up any right it ever claimed to inflict any punishment for fixed periods or to inflict fines.
The second point is one which I would put to the Attorney-General, if in fact he is going to answer questions. It is about the actual words of this Motion. I ask no better than to be able to agree wholeheartedly with it, but I am not sure of the words, "which may be put." I should like to know whether the word "may" includes a permissive element, as when one says that something may be done and something else may not; or whether that word "may" here is purely in relation to the future, and means any question which may in future anyhow happen to be put. If the second meaning is intended, it may be right, but we ought to be clear what we are doing if only for the guidance of future Committees of Privileges who will the more need to be scrupulous.
I think it would be in Order to discuss whether Privilege has the same relation to a Labour Party meeting for instance, or to a Conservative Party meeting for that matter, as it has to the meeting of a Select Committee. I think that would be in Order now, but I do not wish to discuss it. What I wish to indicate is the possibility of a situation where questions might 2291 in some judgments improperly be put to a witness the witness might not answer, on the basis of some such distinction as that. Are we fairly sure that it is inconceivable that the courts might hold him to be right? Obviously, what matters most in questions of Privilege is that we should not get into conflict with the courts? Everyone will agree that wherever that has happened, it has been contrary to the interests of Parliament and of the courts. My question is whether it is now declared, and if so it should be made quite clear, that any question that the Committee might put or choose to put must be answered, or whether hesitation about this or that question or subject coming within the ambit of this Motion remains at all possible?
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
I would certainly hesitate to say that it is inconceivable that the courts might take any particular view about any particular matter. Law is hardly so exact a science that any lawyer would be prepared to commit himself quite as far as that. I say, with a good deal of confidence, that in my view no court would have any jurisdiction whatever to consider the finding of this High Court of Parliament as to whether or not a particular witness, by refusing to answer questions, had been guilty of contempt. That is my view, and I think it is amply supported by the authorities. I would not like to put it any higher than that.
So far as concerns the question whether or not a witness in refusing to answer a question is guilty of contempt irrespective of what the question may be, my view—and again I make it subject to the same qualification—is that it would not be open to the witness to say, "That is an irrelevant question," if in fact the question was put to him by the Committee in the course of the inquiry. Other views taken in other places by other persons as to the relevance of questions or their irrelevance, are immaterial. It is for the Committee to judge that matter, and the witness would have to answer the question. As for the existence of this rule of Privilege, although we are now putting the matter beyond all possibility of doubt by this Motion, I think it was put beyond doubt in the publications which exist on this matter, and notably in the volume of Erskine May on which we all rely.
2292 I think I have covered the point put to me by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) in regard to the so-called privilege, not a strictly legal privilege, which is claimed on behalf sometimes of doctors, sometimes of journalists and sometimes of those who profess a particular religion. As I understand the position, no kind of legal privilege is recognised by any court in regard to these matters. If counsel, in examining a doctor or a journalist or one who professes a particular religion, sought to insist upon a relevant question being answered by that witness, the judge would have no authority, or right, or discretion whatever, to prevent that question being put and answered. If counsel insisted upon the question being put and the witness did not answer it, that would constitute an undoubted contempt of court. How it would be dealt with would depend entirely upon the circumstances of the case. In one case there might be an honourable reason for refusing and in another case there might not. There is an undoubted right to insist upon witnesses in any of those categories answering questions, and judges have no discretion in the matter, although I think in practice a judge may say in a particular case, "Mr. So-and-So, do you think it necessary to insist upon an answer to that question? and it would then be for counsel to decide whether he wished to press the question.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
Is it not a fact that a witness in a court of law need not answer a question if it incriminates himself? The Motion says that the witness has to answerany question.Are we to understand that that applies, whether the question incriminates the witness or not? If so, it seems to be a very wide and sweeping law.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
We have dealt with extra-legal privilege. What about legal privilege? Supposing someone before the Committee had consulted his solicitor. Is that solicitor to be required to disclose his instructions? He could not be required to do so by the High Court. Can he be so required by the Committee of Privileges? Again, what about the position of State documents? The High Court cannot call for them. Can the Committee of Privileges?
§ The Attorney-General
It would be an impertinence on my part to attempt to 2293 pose as an authority on these questions of privilege. I am not. I am a very junior Member of this House and I do not pretend to have the experience that other Members have in regard to it. I was merely seeking to assist the House in giving my own view about the matter, and I gave it subject to that qualification. I would say, so far as my view about these points are concerned, that none of them is the subject of any precedent. None has hitherto come before the Committee of Privileges, or, if it has, it is not the subject of any recorded decision. My own inclination is to think that these privileges which are recognised in the courts of law might not be recognised by the Committee of this House. This House is the supreme court—the High Court of Parliament—and I am inclined to the view that it might not consider itself to be bound by these privileges. That is my personal view. I cannot put it higher or attempt to lay down the law in regard to it.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I would like to answer the question which the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) put to me. He was quite right. My answer was too much of a generalisation, and I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am told that the penalties the House can inflict are to commit, to expel, to censure, to reprimand and to admonish. I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not think I had better be too sure, having slipped once. I do not wish the House to think me guilty of any impudence, but we have had a fair discussion and if the House could resolve this nemine contradicente, it would be a good thing.
§ Mr. Maude (Exeter)
For the sake of clarification, in my submission it is not correct to refer to this House as the High Court of Parliament, as the Lord President of the Council and the Attorney-General have done. This is not the High 2294 Court of Parliament. This is the Commons of England assembled. It is confusing to read the record and to see the expression which has been used. This is quite a different body.
§ Mr. Morrison
This is a pity, but I am advised that the two Houses together are the High Court of Parliament. I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude), and I will be more careful next time.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
I am anxious to understand the true position. The language used here does not appear to me to be quite definite. The words "any question" are used. If I had to come before a Committee and was asked any question, I would consider it to be a matter for my conscience whether or not I answered. I would therefore have to pay the penalties. We have now heard what the penalties are. We never had the penalties laid down. This seems to be a passage from the past. It used to be a case of, "Take him away to the Tower and execute him." What is the power here? As I understand it, this House of Commons, with the House of Lords, is the supreme authority in regard to questions of law and that a decision arrived at in the House is determinable by the House and that no other authority in the land can exercise any authority over it. What is the limitation? Is it a head off, an arm off or a reprimand, or is it just a question of calling people to the Bar, having a chat with them and letting them go away?
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
I am a little perturbed as this seems a very sweeping Motion. The House is taking powers which are greater than those exercised by the courts at the present time. On more than one occasion I have had the experience of appearing before a judge, and certainly on one occasion I can recall being excused from answering questions arising out of a confidential relationship between myself and one of my patients; whereas I can visualise that under this declaratory Motion, in the event of a medical man being called before a Select Committee of this House and refusing to answer any question, he would be guilty or could be made guilty 2295 of contempt of this House. I want to reinforce the suggestion that was made that the Committee of Privileges should exercise the greatest discretion before making use of this Motion. I sympathise with the remarks and point of view of the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) in regard to the Press. I can see that in certain cases the sense of honour and sense of confidential relationship might be so great that members of the Press would be in the greatest difficulty in divulging what had happened. I suggest that it is even more serious in the case of the medical profession. The event might never arise, and I hope that it will not, but this Motion is on the Order Paper and I can see the greatest danger in its wording to a physician or surgeon who might be called before a Committee.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget
If we are making declaratory law, we should make it clear. The question whether legal privilege, the privilege not to incriminate oneself, the privilege which applies to State documents, the privilege of communication between solicitor and client, apply or not ought to be settled. This Motion says, "any question." That would include any of those things. As I understand it, the authority of the Committee of Privileges is on a parallel with that of the High Court of Justice and its powers to raise any question which is not subject to legal privilege. That is one point which I hope will be considered. The other point is that we have heard a great deal of sympathy expressed for the embarrassing position and the conflict of honours in which these two gentlemen have been placed. It has not yet been observed that they found themselves in that awkward predicament because they had entered into a thoroughly corrupt arrangement with an hon. Member and one which they must have known to be corrupt.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The hon. and learned Gentleman appears to be going beyond the special Report which is the only matter before the House. He appears to be going into matters which it is not permissible to raise on this Motion.
§ Mr. Paget
The other aspect has been put on a number of occasions, and the Leader of the House told us of a further 2296 Motion which was to be put and which had been discussed with this Motion. I do not think you were in the Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when that was done. I wish to say no more than that while I would concur with the other Motion in so far as it deals with refusal to answer, it must not be understood that we pass off corrupt practices as being in any way a light matter.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
I feel very strongly about this matter of the witnesses before a Select Committee having to answer any question whatever. I asked the Attorney-General whether it is not a fact that in a court of law a witness was not compelled to answer a question which incriminated himself, and I think it is a very necessary thing to have. In this case, that will not be so, and a witness will have to answer any question whatever, whether he incriminates himself or not. I disagree with that, I think it is going too far. I am not a lawyer, but in a rather long Service career I have had to adjudicate on thousands of cases, and I can say that in the Services one is not allowed to ask a leading question of that nature which would incriminate a witness.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
They cannot be compelled to answer a question which incriminates themselves. I hope this matter will be considered. I am sure the whole House agrees with the case as put by the Leader of the House and accepts without any reservation whatever the veracity of the answers given to the questions put by Mr. Speaker to the two gentlemen concerned. No hon. Member can assign any blame to those two gentlemen whatever. They apparently were not made aware of the fact that they had to answer questions put to them by the members of the Committee of Privileges, and that if they did not answer those questions, they were committing a breach of privilege. I hope there will be no question in the future when witnesses go before a Select Committee of not being warned that they are bound to answer all questions, but that if the answer to a question would incriminate themselves, they need not answer. If 2297 this precaution is taken it would prevent a case of this sort coming before the House again.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I wish to ask the Attorney-General a question. I am all for the Committee of Privileges having every opportunity of questioning and demanding answers to questions, but supposing Mr. Dobson or Mr. Schofield had gone to see the Attorney-General, if he were in private practice, and told him they were guilty, and asked for his advice, and the Committee got to know that they had consulted a legal man and the Committee sent for the lawyer to come before the Committee of Privileges. Would the lawyer be compelled to divulge their names? Would the legal profession have looked upon that if the name had been divulged, with any feeling of agreement. If we are laving down a law that a journalist, doctor, or clergyman who thinks he has something in confidence has to divulge it, I would like to know whether we are laying down a law which covers every individual in every profession. If it is not covering the legal fraternity, I am entirely in disagreement with laying down the law in such a way.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
I can only answer by leave of the House. I feel I am getting into a somewhat embarrassing position. As a mere hired lawyer, I do my best to advise the House about the ordinary law of the land. The law of Parliament is something quite different, and, as I have tried to indicate before, I do not profess to be an authority on the law of Parliament. Parliament itself is the sole judge of the law which is applicable to its proceedings. All I can do is to express an opinion, which is no better than that of any one else. All I can say is that the special privileges we have been discussing, the privilege of refusing to answer incriminating questions, are laid down by Statutes which apply only to particular courts, not all courts, and certainly not to the High Court of Parliament. I am not going to enter into the question of whether this House standing alone is the High Court of Parliament—that is discussed at some length in May—but those statutory exemptions certainly do not by Statute apply to this court. Nor does the privilege which in the ordinary courts 2298 the lawyer has—the only legally recognised privilege—to refuse to answer questions arising out of questions submitted to him professionally by his client, apply to or bind this House, as far as any decision at present goes. In those matters, as I understand it, it is entirely a matter for this House to decide what privileges if any should protect a witness from his otherwise undoubted obligation to answer any questions put to him by the House or the Committee.
§ Mr. McGovern
As a lawyer, would the Attorney-General feel an obligation to answer a question, or would he feel he ought not to divulge the answer? Would his profession expect him to divulge any information gained in his professional capacity if he were summoned to the Committee?
§ The Attorney-General
That is one of those questions of conflicting loyalties. A lawyer would have to consider whether his duty to his client was greater than his duty to the House in the particular circumstances in which he was required to answer a question. One lawyer may come to one conclusion, and another lawyer to another conclusion.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming
I want to put a pertinent question as regards anyone appearing before the Committee of Privileges. When those two gentlemen stood at the Bar of the House and replied to the second question put by Mr. Speaker, whether they understood that by refusing to answer any question put by the Committee they were committing a breach of Privilege, both unhesitatingly answered "No." From their demeanour I would say that they were undoubtedly telling the truth. It struck me that those two gentlemen had been in no way warned of the seriousness of their action in refusing to answer questions. I noticed in reading the Report that it was put in a roundabout way by members of the Committee. But it is pretty well known to lawyers in this House that there is a specific way of putting a warning to anyone liable to be charged with an offence. I should think it would be advisable for this House in future when anyone is called before the Committee, particularly a stranger, that he should be specifically warned of the dangers he runs by refusing to answer any question.
2299 On that point I am rather disinclined to agree with the Attorney General as to whether a man would be compelled in any court to answer any question which incriminated him. It has been pointed out, as regards courts-martial, of which I have had experience in the last two wars, that a man is not bound to answer any question in a court-martial——
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming
A court of inquiry is really a record of evidence. I apologise to my hon. Friend for misunderstanding him. I thought we were talking about courts. Someone referred to this House as the High Court of the land, which it is not. I took it that we were discussing actual courts of law. There is no other court, court-martial or otherwise, in which a man is bound to answer a question which tends to incriminate him. On that ground I would like to see where it is laid down that the Committee of Privileges is entitled, and has been entitled in the past, to ask any question which would tend to incriminate the witness.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Young (Newton)
I wish only to draw the attention of the House to a point which I think has been overlooked in this discussion. We have been talking about the answers of a witness, and some Members have seemed to indicate that he should be entitled, under certain conditions, not to answer a question. If a witness is to be allowed not to answer a question he would be justified in not producing papers which any Select Committee may demand. In those papers there might be many instances of incriminating evidence which he might not wish to produce. The Committee is entitled under the Rules of the House to call for persons, papers and records. I have always understood—I may be wrong—that that meant that a witness had to give full information to the Committee when he was asked a question, either through its Chairman or by any one Member of the Committee. In the past, I have never thought that there was any escape from that, without such refusal being contempt of this House.
2300 Therefore, some Members of this House might themselves show that they know something about the Rules of the House, and realise that we are only at the moment discussing a declaratory Motion which is before the House, and not considering whether these two gentlemen had extenuating circumstances. I should imagine that the point as to whether they had extenuating circumstances is a matter which will come up in the next Motion which the Leader of the House will propose. I thought it my duty, having been a Member of an important Committee, to draw the attention of the House to the fact that if a witness is excused from answering a question, he is equally entitled to be excused for declining to produce papers or any other document which the Committee may think necessary. I trust that the House will declare that a person is under the necessity of answering a question or taking the consequences which this House might impose upon him.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
I differ from the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in that I think the Motion is quite clear. It lays down unequivacally that "any question" must be answered. I think the House has to face the fact that the law is that if a person is summoned before the Committee of Privileges, even if he is a Roman Catholic priest, and is asked about something he has heard in the confessional, it is his duty to answer in the sense that it is a breach of Privilege if he does not. Also, if a husband is asked to incriminate his wife, he is similarly bound to do it, and a wife is bound to incriminate her husband; a lawyer must disclose the most sacred confidence which he has received in a legal capacity. The safeguards are the wisdom and good sense of the Committee of Privileges.
It is important that it should be stated that these wide powers are possessed, and obviously they are, in theory, capable of abuse. The Attorney-General probably remembers the great excitement and furore that was caused before the war among English and other Western European lawyers by the fact that the Nazis were compelling lawyers to disclose the secrets of their clients. The reason for the opposition to violation of this sacred principle was the abuse to which it was subjected by the Nazis. It is a very sacred principle. On the other hand, there is the 2301 status of this House, which demands that in certain circumstances, at a time of crisis, or where high considerations of State are involved, it should perhaps be the duty of a lawyer to disclose such matters. There is another tribunal which has that power under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act. A tribunal to inquire into a Budget leakage has the power to ask questions which witnesses, as far as one can see, have no right to refuse to answer. It is not certain but it looks as if that power is there. If I am right, I think we should recognise that this Motion lays it down unequivocally, and that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton is far from being right in suggesting that it does not do so.
I differ from the Attorney-General. Though there may be no decision upon the matter, this Motion states quite clearly that such a person would have to answer, that there may be found justification for breaking this sacred rule. It must depend on the good sense and sense of duty of the Select Committee. These extreme cases are unlikely to happen, but I submit that it would be well, if I am right, that there should be some statement from the Government Front Bench that that is, in fact, the law. We are considering a Motion which purports to declare the law. If it is the law it should be stated quite clearly——
§ Mr. Paget
Cannot the matter be put in this way? Privilege of Parliament is part of the common law of England, a legal privilege. The Attorney-General said that it is now in statutes, but the statutes merely codify the common law, and where the common law provides certain privileges such as that attached to incriminatory statements, and common law at the same time is building up into the Privilege of Parliament, is it not at least commonsense and reasonable, when one is faced with the problem to take these two things together?
§ Mr. J. Foster
I speak with much more diffidence than did the Attorney-General about the law of Privilege. I am expressing a humble and personal opinion. I should have thought that when this Motion lays down that any question has to be answered, this House is laying down a Rule about the Committee of Privileges, 2302 and that this Motion is the law. If that is so, I think it is, perhaps, necessary to lay down that it is a wide and unqualified Motion. It ought to be added, not in the Motion, but in some statement, that there are these qualifications to what is a very wide power indeed, and one which is not law in any other circumstance except perhaps in the case of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act. I would ask the Lord President of the Council or the Attorney-General if they think I am right in what I have stated, and, if so, whether they should not indicate that there are these safeguards, or that there must be these safeguards, which lie in the sense of conscientiousness and rectitude of Parliament?
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
This is a matter of great importance. As the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) has pointed out, we are declaring the law, at any rate the law of Parliament or of this House of Commons, and it is being stated in an extreme form. The real safeguard and check is the good sense of the House and also of the Committee of Privileges——
§ Mr. Fletcher
I agree. I want to ask the Attorney-General to clarify one point which I think he left rather obscure when he spoke just now. I imagine one limitation which is implicit in this Motion is that, the question, a refusal to answer which constitutes a contempt, must be relevant to the matter referred by the House to the Select Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is what I want to get quite clear. Who is the judge of relevance? I would like to know the opinion of the Attorney-General on that question. If a similar matter is raised in the law court it is for the court not for counsel to decide the relevance of the question. Are we to take it that every individual Member of a Select Committee putting a question is the judge of its relevance to the inquiry before the Select Committee, or is it not the fact that it will be for the Committee as a whole to determine the relevance of the question?
§ The Attorney-General
I have indicated my view quite clearly. I think it is 2303 entirely a matter for the Committee to decide whether a certain question is or is not relevant. The Committee decides. The person to whom the question is put cannot decide whether or not the question is relevant.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The Attorney-General will agree that it is not for the individual Member of the Committee to say whether or not a question is relevant but that it is for the Committee to determine by a majority?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Is it not within the competence of the Chairman to determine whether a question is relevant and in Order?
§ The Attorney-General
If a question was put by one Member of the Committee and another Member wanted to challenge its relevance, it would be for the Chairman to rule whether or not it was a relevant question. A witness could not question the decision of the Committee upon that point.
§ The Attorney-General
I find myself in an embarrassing position here not merely because I am not getting a fee for any advice I give, but because I do not profess to know what the procedure of all these Committees may be. In the case of the Committee of Privileges, the questions are put by different Members.
§ Earl Winterton
Probably I have had experience of more Select Committees than any other hon. Member. The procedure is exactly the same as in this House. If a question is out of Order it is the duty of the Chairman, though he may not always exercise it, to rule that the question cannot be put to the witness. The Chairman has complete power. Whether or not the Chairmen of particular Committees have used that power is a different matter.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I think there is only one point that I need answer. That was the point put by the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) about whether "any question" could be put. Individually, none of us can lay down Parliamentary law. Only the House can do that and the House is doing that by passing this 2304 Motion if it will be good enough to do so. The Motion refers to, "any question." I should have thought that it means any question but, of course, there is the point about what the Chairman might allow. There is the point whether the Committee would press a question in given circumstances and there is also the question whether the House will uphold the Committee. All these are qualifications. Undoubtedly, the Motion, in itself, means any question. I should think that, having said that, it is not for me as Leader of the House, or in any other capacity, any more than for any other hon. Member, to lay down and to interpret Parliamentary law. That is for the House to do. Having said that, might I now make another respectful appeal to the House that we should bring our discussion to a conclusion?
§ Question put, and agreed to, nemine contradicente.
That the refusal of a witness before a Select Committee to answer any question which may be put to him is a contempt of this House and an infraction of the undoubted right of this House to conduct any inquiry which may be necessary in the public interest.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I beg to move;That, in the circumstances, it is not necessary to proceed further in the matter of the Special Report from the Committee of Privileges.This refers to the two gentlemen who were brought to the Bar. I think that this meets the wishes of the House.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
While agreeing straight away with what the Leader of the House has said, I think that in fairness to the two gentlemen, Mr. Schofield and Mr. Dobson, who appeared before the House today, it is only right that I, as a Member of the Committee of Privileges, should add a few remarks, and I believe that I am speaking on behalf of every Member of the Committee. Until they came to the very difficult question of the conflict of loyalties, I am sure that we were all impressed with the fact that they were both witnesses of truth, conscientiously doing their best to assist the Committee in every way they could. It was only when it came to this serious conflict that difficulty arose. It was a position with which the Committee sym- 2305 pathised. In fairness to the two gentlemen I think that tribute should be paid to them. They have passed through a very grim ordeal in standing at the Bar today.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Is it quite clear that this is only in respect of this particular inquiry and that it does not affect what may follow?
§ Mr. Morrison
This refers solely to the matter dealt with in the Special Report, and it is entirely without prejudice to any matters which may arise on the other two Reports.
§ Earl Winterton
I rise to associate myself with the most felicitous statement made by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), my colleague on the Committee. I think that these facts should be known in fairness to the two gentleman concerned I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman who was Chairman of the Committee appears to associate himself with this. I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend has made his statement.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That, in the circumstances, it is not necessary to proceed further in the matter of the Special Report from the Committee of Privileges.