24th January 1957. Privilege of Parliament.
Today in 1957 John Junor was called to appear before the Bar of the Commons for contempt in that as editor of the Sunday Express he was responsible for an article on the favourable treatment of MPs and political parties in the allocation of petrol due to shortage at the time of the Suez invasion debacle.(1)
In this last attempt to curb the Press in the Commons before the Leveson Inquiry, 50 years later, an Order was made for the attendance of Junor before the Bar of the House being accompanied by the Sergeant-of-Arms, accoutred in tails, tights and sword.
As reported in Hansard Mr Speaker said: ‘Mr John Junor you have been summoned to appear at the Bar of this House in consequence of a report made by a Committee of this House relating to an article in the Sunday Express.(2)
After a grovelling apology the Editor expressed his belief the article ‘could have been better, but believed in a free press’, after which the Leader of the House, R.A.Butler then decided on no further action.
The last time a non-MP had appeared at the Bar of the House was in 1880 when Charles Grissell was called for ‘breach of privilege’ concerning the Committee on the Tower High Level Bridge (Metropolis Bill).
The House of Commons may act on the basis of a report by a Committee and may order the Sergeant-of Arms to serve a warrant, who before the end of the 17thc, was magisterially accompanied by the Commons’ Mace.
The last fine to be exacted was on 6th February 1666 when Thomas White was fined £1,000. White had absconded after being ordered into the custody of the Sergeant for causing obstruction to Henry Chowne MP for Horsham who was thereby prevented from attending parliament.
The power of the Commons to fine was denied in 1762 by Lord Mansfield, but unruly MPs could be committed to the lower third of the Clock Tower and technically could be detained for the remainder of the Session; one day being the general rule.(3)
One to suffer this was Charles Bradlaugh when on 23 June 1880 he refused to take the Oath of Allegiance on becoming an MP and spent a night in the ‘Prison Room’.
The House of Commons Information Office in 2012 said: ‘Parliaments have various powers…rarely used to punish strangers (non-MPs)…contempt, in particular…and viewed with differing degrees of severity…as it is impossible to give guidance as to how we may react at any one time’.
There are many provisions for dealing with recalcitrant MPs which don’t now include imprisonment.
(1) Article 16.12.1956.
(2) Junor was rather a racy character, who if still alive might have been arrested over historic sex charges as according to Graham Lord employed by the Sunday Express he ‘groped his wife’ and seems to have been cavalier in his treatment of women generally.
Lord wrote an article describing Junor ‘As a bigot [racist] and blatant hypocrite [saying he wouldn’t accept an honour, but was made a knight] who had lost 2.5 million sales over 32 years’ (10th April 2013).
His daughter Penny also a journalist agreed with Lord’s sentiments as he was a tyrant at home abusing his wife who eventually left to live with her daughter.
Junor went on to become a public figure on TV and was awarded a knighthood by Mr Thatcher, the only politician he seemed to like and support.
(3) In R v Pitt and R v Mead (3 Burr 1335).
Ref: Hansard: Privilege. Attendance of Mr John Junor. HC Debate. 24 June 1957. Vol 563. cc 403-5 ).
Ref: Blogging the News Robert Mackey July 14th 2011. NY Times. Wednesday May 2nd 2012.
Ref: Lord in pressgazette.co.uk/john-junor.
Ref: bbc.co.uk. Caroline Lowbridge. 16.3.2016.Pics.