HC Deb 14 March 1958 vol 584 cc775-6

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Clement Davies (by Private Notice)

asked the Attorney-General, in view of the terms of the Address passed by this House on 4th December, 1957, by what authority a statement on his behalf was conveyed to Her Majesty's Privy Council on 12th March, 1958, that any guidance given by Her Majesty's Privy Council on the law on the question of what is "a proceeding in Parliament" would be welcomed by this House.

The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been entirely misinformed.

No statement was made to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council either by me, or on my behalf, on the 12th March or on any other date, to the effect that "any guidance given by Her Majesty's Privy Council on the law on the question of what is 'a proceeding in Parliament' would be welcomed by this House".

In my opening of the case, and also in my reply, I made it clear that the Judicial Committee was not being asked to review the conclusions of the Committee of Privileges with regard to what was "a proceeding in Parliament".

Mr. Davies

I am glad to have that reply from the Attorney-General, but has he seen the categorical statement made in a report by the Daily Telegraph yesterday, which is as follows: Mr. Gardiner— who appeared on behalf of the London Electricity Board— suggested that the question as put to the Judicial Committee had not been framed as widely as it might have been. He had been asked by the Attorney-General to say that any guidance on the law in this field would be welcomed by the House of Commons. The real question to be decided was who was to decide what was a proceeding in Parliament. Further, did not the Privy Council hear arguments on this very point which had been reserved by the House for itself, and, if so, is it conceivable that it would have done so unless it had been invited to do so by someone it thought had authority?

The Attorney-General

I cannot accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the report—obviously, a very short report—in the Daily Telegraph on that matter. I am glad to have the opportunity of repeating that I gave no authority and did not ask the Committee to consider anything on the lines of what is suggested in the Question.

I am not, of course, in any way responsible for what Mr. Gardiner said or what his arguments were on behalf of the London Electricity Board, which was his client, but I made it clear that the only question the Judicial Committee was being asked to consider was that contained in its terms of reference. It is right, if I may paraphrase it, that Mr. Gardiner put forward the view that the question really was not properly framed and that the real question which ought to have been put was: "what was the meaning in law of the words 'proceeding in Parliament' to be found in the Bill of Rights?"—which, of course, is in the Statute Book.

Mr. Davies

And argued that very point on questions of fact?

The Attorney-General

I do not know whether that is a question or an interpretation of a Press report, but, of course, I accept no responsibility for any arguments put forward on behalf of the London Electricity Board. The arguments on all sides covered, as they were bound to do on a matter of this sort, a very wide field delving back into ancient history and trying to determine what the position was before the Act of 1770 was passed, because for the proper interpretation of that Act it was, I think, a common ground that one had to determine so far as one could what was the position when that Act was passed.

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