Memorandum submitted by Daniel Greenberg, Counsel for Domestic Legislation, Office of Speaker’s Counsel, House of Commons (SCC0021)
Precedent: Parliament and Perjury
The House of Commons may administer an oath to the witnesses examined at the bar of the said House.
Any committee of the House of Commons may administer an oath to the witnesses examined before such committee.
Q294 Chair: Right, Mr Inglese, we are taking a very unusual step this afternoon. From here onwards, we are going to examine you on Oath-that is a power that we have. The Oath will be administered by the Clerk. I gather there are two forms of words that you can give, which the Clerk will read out to you.
Anthony Inglese: Can I have a minute’s time out?
Mr Bacon: No, I don’t see why you should have a minute’s time out at all. This Committee has the power to make witnesses give evidence under Oath, and we are doing so because we have not been able to get answers otherwise, so I think we should just get on with it.
Anthony Inglese: I swear by almighty God that the evidence I shall give before this Committee shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
Q295 Chair: Thank you. I am no lawyer, but clearly, as you have taken the Oath, you will not want to give answers that are incorrect, because you might find yourself with an accusation of having committed perjury, as I understand it.
Disadvantage of model
(a) retaining the present unsatisfactory position where Parliament is seen as impotent to enforce its requirements, and
(b) introducing a statutory mechanism which by involving the courts expressly avoids legal objections and minimises reputational damage.
(a) Were a Select Committee to summon the CEO of a multinational company to give evidence about an aspect of policy of the company, the High Court might refuse an injunction to compel attendance on the grounds that the presence of the CEO herself or himself was not necessary to the inquiry, where they had offered to send an appropriately knowledgeable and experienced representative.
(b) In another case, however, where a Select Committee had decided to investigate on an ad hominem basis, the judge would be expected to conclude that anybody other than the witness summoned would be incapable of giving the information required by the Committee; whether or not the Committee was wise to conduct an ad hominem investigation, would not be something on which the court could opine.
23 October 2019
Failure to attend Commons Select Committee
(1) This section applies if the Speaker of the House of Commons certifies that an individual—
(a) was summoned by a Select Committee of the House of Commons to attend the Committee to answer questions or to provide information or documents, and
(b) has failed to attend, or to answer questions or to provide information or documents.
(2) The Speaker may certify in writing to the High Court that the individual has failed to comply with the summons.
(3) Where a failure to comply is certified under subsection (2), the court—
(a) shall inquire into the matter, and
(b) may deal with the individual as if for a contempt of court.
(4) The court may act under subsection (3)(b) after hearing—
(a) any witness who may be produced on behalf of the Committee,
(b) any statement that may be offered on behalf of the individual, and
(c) any witness who may be produced on behalf of the individual.
(5) The court may consider the nature and purpose of the Committee’s summons and proceedings for the purposes of determining what action (if any) to take under subsection (3)(b) (but not for any other purpose, and this section does not diminish or qualify any existing right or privilege of the House of Commons).
 At least, it would be inconsistent with the Convention without providing for judicial oversight of a kind inconsistent with Article IX of the Bill of Rights; the advantage of the model proposed in this Note is that it involves Parliament choosing to invoke judicial remedies, rather than the judges being compelled to supervise Parliamentary remedies.
 Such as the breach of natural justice involved in Parliament being seen to be the judge of its own cause against the citizen.
 Minutes of Evidence – HC 1531 – 7 November 2011.
 This was not, of course, entirely accurate: the statute gives the House power to administer oaths, it does not give the House the power to compel witnesses to take them; its purpose is to engage the law of perjury, as the purpose of the proposed model would be to engage the law of contempt of court, by converting contempt of Parliament into a contempt of court.
 Article IX of the Bill of Rights.
 And recent high-profile failures in cooperation may encourage the trend to become more widespread.
 Indeed, this method could actually give additional reputational traction as Parliament is seen to balance its duty to hold government and others to account and to investigate matters on behalf of the public, against a desire to respect privacy and due process.