Consideration of reports of committees on complaints
15.37The House of Commons now proceeds directly to a substantive motion in connection with reports of committees on matters of privilege (whether the Committee on Standards or the Committee of Privileges (see paras 38.76 –38.78 ) or another committee specially appointed).1 The precedence afforded to such business is dealt with at paras 19.25, 19.30, 19.32, and the practice of the House regarding action on reports of the Committee on Standards is considered at para 5.26.
If the report is to the effect that no breach of privilege has been committed or that no action is required, no further proceedings are usually taken in reference to the report.2 Despite this, there have been a few occasions on which the Commons has agreed with such a report3 or with a committee's conclusion that, notwithstanding that there had been a breach of privilege,4 the House should take no further action. Other circumstances in which no further proceedings have been taken in the Commons following a Committee of Privileges recommendation to that effect include reports that an offender had explained and regretted their offence,5 that the conduct complained of was not such a breach of privilege as called for further action,6 that the House would best consult its dignity by taking no further notice of the libel,7 or that no further time should be occupied in the consideration of the offence.8
If, however, the committee reports that a serious breach of privilege has been committed, the House will take action upon it.9 In the most recent such case, the contemnors were admonished by the House without their attendance being required.10
In previous times, the House has ordered the person incriminated to attend, in order to hear anything they may say in extenuation or mitigation, before coming to substantial judgment on the decision of the committee.11 Once the House had given agreement to the committee's report,12 it would consider the punishment appropriate to the offence13 (see paras 11.23 –11.33 ). At this juncture also the persons named by the committee and found guilty of a breach of privilege could be ordered (sometimes in the custody of the Serjeant14 ) to attend the House in order to be heard in extenuation or mitigation.15 In cases where the parties have acknowledged their fault and apologised, the order for attendance has been discharged.16 This has been the case even where the House has begun debate on the matter.17
The House has not always agreed with the committee that a breach of privilege has been committed,18 and in a case where a penalty was recommended for refusal to answer questions put by the committee, the House decided that no action needed to be taken.19 For proceedings in the House of Lords, see paras 5.42 –5.44.
- 1. For example, CJ (1929–30) 503; ibid (1933–34) 231; ibid (1937–38) 367; ibid (1994–95) 286; ibid (2008–09) 402.
- 2. See eg Committee of Privileges, First Report of Session 2014–15, Action of Sussex Police: final report, HC 588.
- 3. CJ (1766–68) 541; ibid (1933–34) 231.
- 4. Report of the Committee of Privileges, HC 235 (1950–51) and CJ (1950–51) 319.
- 5. Report of the Committee of Privileges, HC 153 (1911) p iii; CJ (1926) 99; ibid (1932–33) 141; Ninth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, HC 373 (2009–10) p 7.
- 6. Report of the Committee of Privileges, HC 98 (1924) p iii.
- 7. Report of the Committee of Privileges, HC 98 (1924) p iii.
- 8. Report of the Committee of Privileges, HC 31 (1953–54) p 3.
- 9. CJ (1765–66) 843; ibid (1839) 278; ibid (1878–79) 363; ibid (1947–48) 20; ibid (1956–57) 66.
- 10. Votes and Proceedings, 27 October 2016.
- 11. CJ (1765–66) 843; ibid (1839) 278; ibid (1878–79) 363; ibid (1947–48) 20; ibid (1956–57) 66.
- 12. In some cases the House, on taking the report of a committee into consideration, has adjudged the person incriminated guilty of a contempt or a breach of the privileges of the House, without first resolving that it agreed with the committee in their report (CJ (1825–26) 445; ibid (1826–28) 561; ibid (1865) 336; ibid (1887) 306; ibid (1947–48) 22). But it is more regular for the House to agree to the report of the committee before proceeding to act on it (Parl Deb (1835) 29, cc 1250–51).
- 13. The House, after agreeing to the report, has then proceeded to adjudge the offender guilty of a breach of privilege or of a contempt (CJ (1835) 501; ibid (1843) 523; ibid (1851) 288; ibid (1929–30) 503). This step, however, is unnecessary in cases where the committee has reported that, in its opinion, the person implicated has been guilty of a breach of the privileges of the House, or of an offence which amounts on the face of it to a breach of privilege.
- 14. CJ (1825–26) 445, 455; ibid (1826–28) 561, 577, 581. The House has ordered the incriminated party to be taken into the custody of the Serjeant, and, when that officer reported that they had been taken into custody, adjudged them guilty of a breach of privilege and committed them to Newgate (ibid (1818) 282, 289).
- 15. CJ (1819–20) 243, 244; ibid (1956–57) 66. In the latter case, the person attended and was heard. They then withdrew and the House resolved that they had been guilty of a serious contempt but that in view of their apology the House would proceed no further in the matter.
- 16. CJ (1819–20) 286.
- 17. CJ (1950–51) 298–99, 303. See Erskine May (24th edn, 2011).
- 18. For example, CJ (1957–58) 260.
- 19. CJ (1975–76) 64.