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Clause 5. — (the Board's Reports.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Prices and Incomes Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th August 1966.

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Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry 12:00 am, 9th August 1966

I am not happy about the reply to which we have just listened. In his opening remarks, the Attorney-General said that the Clause had been carefully drawn—I think I use his exact words—to protect persons on the one hand, and then he said something else about the other aspects of the Clause. I respectfully submit to him that any protection to which he referred is completely removed by the phrase "so far as that is practicable". There can be little protection where there is a phrase like that, when the practicability is to be judged not by some impartial body but by the Board, which is a party judging its own case. How can the Attorney-General say that the Clause has been drawn carefully to protect persons, if the decision on this is to be made by a body which is essentially biased, and is bound to be?

Secondly, he said that it is right to give the Board that discretion, for otherwise there would be an absolute veto by the persons concerned, but of course there would be no such absolute veto if Amendment No. 8 were incorporated, namely, that if a person objects there should be recourse to the High Court Judge procedure to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman objected. I submit that that effective veto by the person whose affairs were to be investigated and who objected could be made less than absolute if there were some machinery comparable to that suggested in Amendment No. 8. This is a very serious matter, because the Board is to enjoy absolute privilege, and can defame a person's character without his having any recourse to the courts. This is a matter of extraordinary seriousness and gravity, but this did not appear to be appreciated in the Attorney-General's reply.

The Attorney-General said that there is a similar provision in the monopolies legislation. But permanent legislation of that character is different from a Bill of this kind which, even in the words of Government spokesmen, is designed at the most to create a standstill or a pause in earnings and prices for a limited period. I should have thought that there were grounds for distinguishing the two kinds of legislation, particularly as the monopolies legislation impinges on far fewer people than legislation of this character, which might impinge on the personal and private affairs of a large proportion of the population.

While the wording of the Amendments may not be perfect, the principle enunciated in them is essentially sound, that if the Board wishes to interrogate individual citizens and investigate and publish their personal affairs there should be some safeguard, particularly when the Board enjoys absolute privilege on matters of a defamatory nature. I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to deal with this matter with, apparently, a good deal of complacency. It is a very serious matter about which the whole House should be deeply concerned.