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Parliamentary History As An External

Aid Of Construction
November 13, 2015 by admin 1 Comment


While interpreting a statute true intent of the legislature shall have to be gathered and
deciphered in its proper spirit having due regard to the language used therein.i Where language
is clear, external aid for construction is not required. External aids are relevant only when the
language is not clear and two meanings are possible.ii Factual events contemporaneous to time
of interpretation cannot be taken into consideration for interpretation of a statute. The Supreme
Court held in a case that the approach of High Court in interpreting the Development Control
Regulations having regard to certain other factors, namely, deluge in Bombay in 2005 as also
the requirements of entire population of Bombay from environmental aspect was erroneous. It
was held that such factors cannot be taken into consideration for interpretation of a statute.iii
Foreign decisions
Parliamentary history
Historical facts and surrounding circumstances
Subsequent social, political and economic developments and scientic inventions
Text books
Reference to other statutes
Contemporanea exposito est fortissimo in lege

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The leading authorities do not provide a precise meaning of the term legislative history.
Generally, the term is used to denote documents relating to events that occurred during the
conception, preparation, and passage of the enactment. Peter Hogg considers legislative
history to include the following materials:
1. The report of a royal commission or law reform commission or parliamentary committee
recommending that a statute be enacted;
2. A government policy paper (whether called a white paper, green paper, budget paper or
whatever) recommending that a statute be enacted;
3. A report or study produced outside government which existed at the time of the enactment
of the statute and was relied upon by the government that introduced the legislation;
4. Earlier versions of the statute, either before or after its introduction into Parliament or the
5. Statements by ministers or members of Parliament and testimony of expert witnesses before
a parliamentary committee charged with studying the bill; and
6. Speeches in the Parliament or Legislature when the bill is being debated.
Absent from the foregoing list are explanatory memoranda which are documents explaining the
contents and objects of the bill to members of the house- frequently used in some common law
jurisdictions, such as Australia. These materials are also considered to be part of legislative
The parliamentary procedure is similar across most common law jurisdictions, except for the
United States. After the draft legislation has been accepted by the government, it is introduced
in the Parliament. It then proceeds through the normal stages of rst and second readings,
reference to committee, report stage, and nal reading of the bill. House members commentary
on the bill during the three readings is recorded in Hansard, the ofcial reporter of parliamentary
debates. The vast majority of drafts are public bills introduced by the government; there are also
private bills and private members bills.
It is noteworthy that speeches in Parliament on a statute made subsequent to its enactment
such as parliamentary statements during the debate on an unsuccessful amendment to the
statute cannot be considered part of its legislative history. Such speeches did not occur
during the enactment, and are not antecedent to the crystallisation of the words in the statute.
Therefore, although they are recorded in Hansard, they cannot be regarded as parliamentary
debates on that particular legislation.
Legislative history must be distinguished from the so-called social-science data and other
factual materials that have played no role in the legislative process. Social science data can be
introduced as evidence in certain courts, particularly in the United States, in the form of a
Brandeis brief.iv They are, however, distinct from (and cannot be considered part of) the
legislative history of a statute. Although they can have bearing on the construction of a statute,
social-science data are, in effect, facts submitted to the general rules of evidence. In contrast,
legislative history materials are not facts neither adjudicative nor legislative but rather
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interpretive aids.
English practice can be discussed under three sub-headings.:
English traditional view is that the intent of the Parliament which passed the act is not to be
gathered from the parliamentary history of the statute.
The Bill in its original form, or the amendments considered during its progress in the legislature
are not admissible as aids to construction.
Recommendations contained in the report of a Royal Commission which may have led to the
introduction of the measure in Parliament cannot be used as evidence for the purpose of
showing the intention, i.e., purpose or object of the Act.
Courts are entitled to consider such external facts as may be necessary to understand the
subject-matter to which the statutes relates or they can also have regard to the mischief which
the statute is intended to remedy. The exclusionary rule has been relaxed to admit the reports of
the Commission preceding statutory measure as evidence of surrounding circumstances with
reference to which the words in the statute are used.
In Black Clawson International Ltd v Papierwerke Waldhof Aschaffenburg, AGv, the House of
Lords unanimously held that the reposrt of a committee presented to Parliament preceeding the
legislation could be seen for nding out the then state of law and the mischief required to be
remedied. But the majority held that the report could not be looked at for nding out the
intention of the Parliament, ie, for a direct statement of what the proposed enactment meant
even though the report set out a draft bill which was enacted without any alteration. But the
minority view was that when the draft bill was enacted without any alteration, it was Parliaments
intention to do what the committee recommended and to achieve the object the Committee
had in mind and, therefore, the Committees observations on the draft bill would form the most
valuable guide to the intention of the Parliament. The majority view was followed and it was held
that while considering an Act passed to give effect to a scheme formulated at a Commonwealth
Law Ministers conference, the scheme could be looked at to see the mischief in need of a
remedy and the steps proposed to effectuate the remedy and a white paper preceding a
legislation can be used for the same purpose.vi
The English practice continued to make the distinction drawn between the refusal to admit the
report of a Committee for purpose of nding out the intention of Parliament and its relevance as
evidence of surrounding circumstances or as aid to understand the subject-matter to which the
statute relates or as indicative of the evil or defect which the act was intended to remedy, is
somewhat obscure. Allen in his book has referred to it as casuistical.vii
If the key to opening of every law is the reason and the spirit of the law and if a statute is best
interpreted when we know why it was enacted then the steps taken for understanding or
dening the object of or the mischief intended to be dealt with by the statute are themselves a
part of the process for getting its meaning. When the courts starts upon the task of interpreting
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a statute, it is unrealistic and impractical to divide the exercise into different compartments viz,
one leading to discerning the object or mischief and the other leading to discerning the true
meaning of the statute. The exercise in its entirety is one process for discerning the true
meaning of the Act, or, in other words, the intention of the legislature.
It was held in R v Shivpuriviii that reports of law commissions preceding a legislation constitute
an important material for understanding the legislation and it has been acknowledged that a
careful reading of such a report would have avoided an erroneous construction which was very
soon overruled.


In construing statutes, the school of thought that open use should be made of parliamentary
history has been gaining ground. The rule against references to legislative history is no longer so
much a canon of construction as a counsel of caution. In other words, it is for the Courts to
consider what weight is to be given to the materials that emerge from scrutiny of legislative
history rather than to automatically to exclude such materials from all considerations as an aid to
interpretation.ix Legislative history of a statute can be looked into only in case of ambiguity and
not otherwise.
In Pepper v Hartx, this trend found an approval. It was held that reference to Parliamentary
material should be permitted as an aid to construction of legislation which is ambiguous or
obscure or the literal meaning of which leads to absurdity. Even in such cases, references in
court to parliamentary material should only be permitted where such material clearly discloses
the mischief aimed at or the legislative intention lying behind the ambiguous or obscure words.
It was further held in this case that the court cannot attach a meaning to words which it cannot
bear, but if the words are capable of bearing more than one meaning, why should not
Parliaments true intention be enforced. It was also observed that given the purposive
approach to construction now adopted by courts in order to give effect to the true intention of
the legislature, the ne distinctions looking for the mischief and looking for the intention is using
words to provide the remedy are technical and inappropriate.
There were two objections to this:
1) Parliamentary materials are not readily available but it was said that experience has shown
that non-availability of materials has not raised any practical problems in countries like Australia
and New Zealand.
2) Another objection raised was that recourse to Parliamentary material will amount to
questioning the freedom of speech and debates in Parliament. But this objection was rejected
and it was held that far from questioning the independence of Parliament and its debates, the
courts would be giving effect to what is said and done there.
Pepper v Hart is a landmark decision relating to resorting to parliamentary history as an external
aid to construction. The facts of the case were: There was an appeal by tax payers who were
teachers in a school. Under a scheme of the school the members of the staff were entitled to
have their children educated at the school on payment of only one-fth of the normal fee
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chargeable from members of the public. Cash equivalent to this benet was chargeable to
income-tax under S61 (1) of the Finance Act, 1976. The concessionary fees more than covered
the additional cost to the school of educating the tax-payers children. Section 63(1) said that
cash equivalent to the benet meant an amount equal to the cost of the benet and S 63 (2)
gave the meaning of cost of benet as the amount of any expense incurred in or in connection
with its provision. Now the question in this case was what is the true meaning of s 63(2).
The House of Lords found that S 63(2) was ambiguous. Therefore, the reference was made to
the Parliamentary history and statements made by the Financial Secretary to the treasury during
the Committee stage of the bill which clearly showed that the Parliament had passed the
legislation with the intention that the concessionary benets for teachers children would be
worked on the additional or marginal cost to the employers and on the average cost. On this
basis the construction contended for by the tax payers was upheld.
In contrast to the traditional English practice, under American practice, the old rule of exclusion
of parliamentary history has been very much relaxed. Although it is generally accepted that
debates in Congress are not appropriate or even reliable guides to the meaning of the
language of an enactmentxi, it has been held that the said rule is not violated by resorting to
debates as a means of ascertaining the environment at the time of enactment of a particular
law, that is, the history of the period when it was adopted.xii Further it appears to be well
accepted that the reports of a committee, including the bill as introduced, changes made in the
frame of the Bill in the course of its passage and the statement made the committee chairman
in charge of it, stand upon a different footing, and maybe resorted to under proper
It is easy to nd opponents and supporters of these views. Some critics even in America feel
that recourse to legislative history is a badly overdone practice of dubious help to true
interpretation. It has been characterized as the custom of re-making statutes to t their
histories. It has also been pointed out that the practice poses serious practical problems for a
large part of legal profession. The formal Act is no longer a safe basis on which a lawyer may
advise his client and he must consult all of the committee reports on the bill and all its
antecedents, and all that its supporters and opponents said in debate, and then predict what
part of the conicting views will likely appeal to a majority of the Court. Further, it has been
stated that the most unfortunate consequence of resort to legislative history is that it introduces
the policy controversies that generated the Act into the deliberations of the Court. Prof. Reed
Dickerson after analyzing the uses and abuse of legislative history concludes that the more
realistic approach to legislative history would be to end or severely limit its judicial use.xiii
On the other hand, those who support the liberal use of legislative materials for the purpose of
construction says that the meaning of the words of a statute be resolved in the light of their
setting in the legislative process rather than in the light of the intuition of the judge.xiv According
to this view, a liberal use of legislative material is one of the modern efforts so that judicial law
making under the guise of interpretation may be reduced to its necessary minimum.
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It will appear that a wholesale inclusion of parliamentary history as also a wholesale inclusion
thereof are both extremes equally open to objections, and the correct solution lies in nding out
a middle course as now adopted by the House of Lords.
The Supreme Court has used the aid of Parliamentary history in resolving questions of
construction but it can be said that the Supreme Court generally has enunciated the said rule of
exclusion of Parliamentary history in the way it was traditionally enunciated by English Courts.
But in few cases it has been held that he legislative history within circumspect limits may not
consulted by the Courts in resolving ambiguities. Legislative history and precedent English
statutes may be taken into consideration in giving benecent interpretation to a provision in an
act. In determining legislative intent, even a ministers budget speech was taken into
(i) BILL
As the speeches made by the members of the Constitution Assembly in the course of debates
on the draft Constitution cannot be admitted as an external aid to the Constitution, in the same
way, the debates on a Bill in Parliament are not admissible for construction of the Act which is
ultimately enacted.
In State of Travancore v Bombay Co Ltdxvi, it was held that a speech made in the course of the
debate on a bill could at best be indicative of the subjective intent of the speaker, but it could
not reect the inarticulate mental process lying behind the majority vote which carried the bill.
Nor is it reasonable to assume that the minds of all those legislators were in accord.
In Chiranjit Lal Chowdhary v Union of Indiaxvii, Fazal Ali, J admitted Parliamentary history
including the speech of the Minister introducing the Bill as evidence of the circumstances which
necessitated the passing of the Act, a course apparently approved in later decisions.
In Union of India v Harbhajan Singhxviii, extensive references were made to speeches in the
Constituent Assembly to support the construction that wealth-tax on net-wealth including
capital value of agricultural lands fell within the residuary power of the Parliament. In Indira
Sawhney v Union of Indiaxix, the Supreme Court referred to Dr. Ambedkars speech in the
Constituent Assembly and observed interpreting art 16 (4), that the debates in the Constituent
Assembly could be relied upon as an aid to interpretation of a constitutional provision is borne
out by a series of decisions of the Court. Since the expression backward classes of citizens are
not dened in the Constitution, reference to such debates is permissible to ascertain at any rate
the context, background and objective behind them. Particularly where the courts want to
ascertain the original intent such reference may be unavoidable.
The amendments considered during the progress of a bill were ruled out as inadmissible for
purposes of construction of the Act.xx This principle was modied by the Supreme Court in the
case of Express Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd v Union of Indiaxxi. The Court observed that there is a
consensus of opinion that the circumstances under which a particular word came to be deleted
from the original Bill as introduced in the Parliament and the fact of such deletion when the act
to be passed in the nal shape are not aids to the construction of terms of a statute. It is
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applicable only when the terms of a statute are vague or ambiguous.

In K.S.Paripoornan v State of Keralaxxii, it was held that speeches of members of Parliament
are not admissible as extrinsic aids though the speech of the mover of the bill can be referred to
nd out the object intended to be achieved by the Bill. Similarly it was held that statements
made by a Minister in the house who had moved the Bill in Parliament could be referred to
ascertain the mischief sought to be remedies by legislation but it could not be relied on for
interpreting provisions of the enactment.
The statement of objects and reasons accompanying a legislative bill cannot be used to
ascertain the true meaning and affect of the substantive provisions of the legislation, but it can
certainly be pressed into service for the limited purpose of understanding the background, the
antecedent state of affairs and the object that the legislation sought to achieve. If the meaning of
the provision of a statute is clear and explicit, it is not necessary to advert to the objects and
reasons thereof.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons is undoubtedly an aid to construction but that by itself
cannot be termed to be and by itself as an aid to the construction of a statute. It is a useful
guide but the interpretations and the intent shall have to be gathered from the entirety of the
statute. In Ashwini Kumars casexxiii, the statement of Objects and Reasons was ruled out as
an aid to the construction of a statute. When a validity of a particular statute is brought into
question, a limited reference may be made to he Statement of Objects and Reasons but it may
not be relied on. It may be employed for the purposes of comprehending the factual
background, the prior state of legal affairs, the surrounding circumstances in respect of the
statute and the evil which the statute has sought to remedy. It cannot be the exclusive footing
upon which a statute is made a nullity through the decision of a court of law.xxiv
Statement of Objects and Reasons can be referred only for understanding the background, the
antecedent state of affairs, the surrounding circumstances in relation to the state of affairs, and
the evil which the statute has sought to remedy. It can be referred to only to ascertain conditions
prevailing at the time which prompted introduction of Bill but where language of the statute is
clear and plain it is not required to be referred to. It cannot be utilized for the purpose of
restricting and controlling the plain meaning of the language employed by the legislature in
drafting a statute and excluding from its operation such transactions which it plainly covers. In
CIT, MP v Sodra Devixxv, while dealing with s 16(3) of the Income Tax Act 1922 as introduced
by the amending act IV of 1937, and in construing the words any individual and such
individual occurring therein Bhagwati J restricted their meaning to males on a consideration
that the statement of objects and reasons appended to the Bill of Amending Act made it clear
that the evil which was sought to be remedied was the one resulting from the widespread
practice of husbands entering into nominal partnerships with their wives and fathers admitting
their minor children to the benets of partnerships of which they were members and that the
only intention of the legislature was to include the income derived by the wife or a minor child, in
the computation of total income of the male assessee, the husband or the father, as the case
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maybe. In Babu Ram v State of U.Pxxvi, it was held that the statement of Objects and Reasons
can be referred to ascertain mischief sought to be remedied by the statute.
However, the statement of Objects and Reasons have never been held admissible for
determining whether a certain provision of the Act, which was ultra vires was or was not
severable from the other provisions of the Act.xxvii A provision inserted by subsequent
amendment cannot be construed on the basis of statement of objects and reasons of the
original statute.
Reports of Commissions or Inquiry Committees preceding the introduction of a Bill have also
been referred to as evidence of historical facts or of surrounding circumstances or of mischief or
evil intended to be remedied and at times for interpreting the act. In the Transfer of Property Act,
s 53- A was inserted on the basis of recommendations of the Special Committee set up by the
Government of India. Examples can also be taken from Sodra Devis Case in which Income Tax
Enquiry Report was referred, in Express Newpapers Case where the Press Commissions
Report was referred and in Madanlals Case where report by Committee appointed to bring
changes in Company law was referred.
In CIT, AP, v Jayalakshmi Rice and Oil Mills Contractor Coxxviii, it was held that the report of the
special committee which had been appointed by the Government of India to examine the
provisions of the Bill which later became the Partnership Act could not be admitted for
interpreting the provisions of the Act.
But a different view was taken in RS Nayak v AR Antuleyxxix where the court held that report of
the Committee which preceded the enactment of a legislation, reports of joint Parliamentary
Committee and Report of a Commission set up for collecting information leading to the
legislation are permissible external aids to construction of the Act.
In M Ismail Faruqqui v Union of Indiaxxx, it was held by the Supreme Court that white paper
issued by the Government detailing the facts leading to enactment of a statute is also
admissible for understanding the background when the court is called upon to interpret and
decide the validity of the statute. In understanding the background of the Babri Masjid dispute,
in deciding the reference made under art 143 and the constitutionality of the Acquisition of
Certain Areas of Ayodhya Act 1993 extensive reference was made by the Supreme Court to the
white paper. In Samantha v State of Andhra Pradeshxxxi, in interpreting para 5(2) of the 5th
Schedule of the Constitution, reports of drafting committee and sub-committees of the
Constituent Assembly, the Draft Constitution and changes made thereafter in giving it the nal
shape were referred by the Supreme Court.
However in Maharani Kusumkumari v Kusumkumari Jadejaxxxii, the Law Commissions Report
as an external aid to construction was not relied on.
Parliamentary debates at the time of introduction of bill may be used as an external aid in
interpretation. It is a settled position that there can only be limited use of Parliamentary Debates.
Court should not normally critically analyse the proceedings of Parliament.xxxiii In Milton v
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DPPxxxiv, in interpreting the term prosecution under Income Tax Act, a ministers speech at
the time of introduction of Bill has been taken into consideration.
The letter written by Law Minister cannot override the statutory provision. When the statute is
very clear, whatever statement made by the Law Minister on the oor of the House cannot
change the words and intendment borne out from the words. It was held that such a letter
cannot be read to interpret the provisions of S100A CPC. The intention of the Legislature is
more than clear in the words and the same has to be given its natural meaning and cannot be
subject to any statement made by the Law Minister in any communication. The words speak for
themselves. It does not require any further interpretation by any statement made in any
Even if accepted, in the case of Parliamentary History as an aid to construction of a statute, the
general principle followed is that it can be used only in cases where the statute is not clear or is
ambiguous. Some Parliamentary opinions like Bills and statement of objects and reasons and
Parliamentary debates are resorted to only to a limited extent if at all accepted. However,
reports of Commissions have more authority in this regard. On analysis, it is clear that courts
under Common Law jurisdiction are wary of accepting Parliamentary History as an external aid
to interpretation of statute.


1. Introduction to the Interpretation of Statutes by Dr. Avtar Singh and Dr. Harpreet Kaur, 3rd
Edition (2009), Lexis Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur.
2. Principles of Statutory Interpretation by Justice G.P.Singh, 13th Edition (2012), Lexis Nexis
Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur.
3. Maxwell on The Interpretation of Statutes,J. Langan, 12th Edition (2010), Lexis Nexis
Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur.
4. Parliamentary Debates in Statutory Interpretation: A Question of Admissibility or Weight? :
Stephan Beaulac.

Filed Under: Interpretation of Statutes

Tagged With: construction

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mahi hoque says

April 19, 2017 at 3:09 am

Thank u so much


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