The only judge of anything that is said in the House, of the conduct of a Deputy, of what he says or of the propriety of the charges, or anything else, is the House itself. When we were faced with the situation of the Locke Tribunal, we said the same thing. We made the same case as we are making now, that the proper tribunal to deal with these matters was the House itself—and for the very same reason, that we would not be amenable to any outside body. Deputy Lemass, when he was speaking at the outset of his case, said that this motion related to the standard of behaviour which it is desirable to establish for members of the Dáil and especially for those who happen to be charged with Ministerial responsibility. Is not that a complete statement of the case I am making? Are Deputies going to vote here that an outside body, established by a Government with, as Deputy Lemass would say, a machine-made majority, is to say what the standard of propriety or behaviour of a Deputy is to be in this House? The Constitution lays it down that the only authority which is entitled to say the standard of behaviour which it is desirable to establish for members of the Dáil is the Dáil itself. That has been the principle adopted over centuries in England. We took it from the British Parliamentary practice and from the Bill of Rights and we assert it more strongly even than it is in the Bill of Rights.
There is not a single instance in the whole of the British Parliamentary practice or procedure where a matter of this kind was ever referred to an outside tribunal or body—not a single instance—but we are going now to jeopardise that and, in derogation of the rights of Deputies, to let an outside body, set up by an Executive with a machine-made majority, decide what our behaviour is to be. I ask those Deputies who think on these matters and who, perhaps, have had the importance of the matter brought to their attention for the first time, to think of the seriousness of the principle for which we are standing. We are not standing to shelter the Minister for Agriculture. He was perfectly prepared, as I said that day, to come and meet whatever case was being made against him, before his peers here in the Dáil, in public. Is it to be said that the elected members of Dáil Éireann are not fit, cannot be trusted, as Deputy Lemass said, to do their duty in accordance with their conscience?
We will not stand for that principle at all events; but, as we stood when we were in the Opposition Benches for the principle that it was the right of private Deputies to be protected against the Executive bringing to an outside body matters relating to utterances in this House or the behaviour or conduct of Deputies in this House, we stand for it in Government. Deputy Mulcahy and the others went to the Locke Tribunal, to those members who had been appointed by the then Government, and took that stand and were prepared to fight the case in the Supreme Court and, if necessary, go to jail for it. That was our stand when we were in opposition. Now we are the Government and we are going to take the same stand for the same reason, in the interest of the private Deputy, democratic rights and Parliamentary privilege, and for no other reason whatever.
Deputy Lemass speaks about why we will not do it and he said it is on political grounds. That, of course, is in strict character with the Deputy who made that suggestion and the public can assess the value of that utterance, and it does not need any comment from me because the outside public know the value to place on that statement. We have by our acts shown that we stood for principle and not for political expediency.
Now let me test what the effect of this would be. There is no doubt that it would be the right of Parliament, if there were statutory authority to do so, to refer to an outside body the behaviour or conduct or utterances of members of this House. This House could, if it so demeaned itself, ask people who are not members of the Dáil, people who were never members of the Dáil and did not know its procedure, to set the standard for people in this House.
I want to say this, that if such a body were set up, it would be the duty of any Deputy who was asked to go to give evidence there to refuse to give evidence. I will go further in this and say that it would be the duty of the Ceann Comhairle, as the custodian and guardian of the privileges of Parliament, to take action if such tribunal served a subpoena upon a Deputy to attend there. A Deputy is brought there by subpoena to attend at this so-called judicial tribunal. It is a misnomer. He is called there by this tribunal which can only be set up under a British statute—the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921. He is called there to give evidence before that tribunal as to what he said in Parliament. That is one of the things that has been jealously guarded by the British Parliament and that we ought to guard as to what is said here in Parliament. He is examined as to what he said here in Parliament, questioned and liable to be cross-examined at this tribunal on what he said in Parliament. There is a still further inroad that would be made and that was attempted to be made in the Locke Tribunal and which we fought and which, I believe, we beat. Deputies of this House are asked to state their reasons for certain matters that they wish to bring to the attention of the House. Everybody who has been in this House knows that Governments may be guilty of certain acts which, if they are not exposed to the public, will do very great damage. It is the right and duty of Deputies to find these out, if they can, and expose them. It is the right of each Deputy, when he is given information, conscientiously to act upon that information and, if he decides that he ought to act upon it, then he brings the matter here in public before the Dáil and he says: "I have been informed that such and such a thing has happened." The Ceann Comhairle is the guardian here in the first instance of the propriety of utterances in this House. The ultimate guardian is the House itself.
When the private Deputy makes these charges, conscientiously believing them to be true, they may in fact be true. He may be given information which may expose corruption in the Government. We all know that information of that kind is very hard to get. People who give information which they want Deputies to ventilate in the House are very desirous of keeping their names from publicity as a rule, very frequently because they are afraid of the Government, as they were afraid of the last Government, as we know when we were in opposition we were given information confidentially on certain matters of government and were told: "You must not tell our names, because, if you did, our business would be affected." We were told that again and again.