Pepper v Hart  AC 593 is a landmark decision of the House of Lords on the use of legislative history in statutory interpretation. The Court established the principle that when primary legislation is ambiguous then, under certain circumstances, the court may refer to statements made in the House of Commons or House of Lords in an attempt to interpret the meaning of the legislation. Before this ruling such an action would have been seen as a breach of parliamentary privilege.
Pepper - v- Hart  c617 extract
My Lords, I have long thought that the time had come to change the self-imposed judicial rule that forbade any reference to the legislative history of an enactment as an aid to its interpretation. The ever increasing volume of legislation must inevitably result in ambiguities of statutory language which are not perceived at the time the legislation is enacted. The object of the court in interpreting legislation is to give effect so far as the language permits to the intention of the legislature. If the language proves to be ambiguous I can see no sound reason not to consult Hansard to see if there is a clear statement of the meaning that the words were intended to carry. The days have long passed when the courts adopted a strict constructionist view of interpretation which required them to adopt the literal meaning of the language. The courts now adopt a purposive approach which seeks to give effect to the true purpose of legislation and are prepared to look at much extraneous material that bears upon the background against which the legislation was enacted. Why then cut ourselves off from the one source in which may be found an authoritative statement of the intention with which the legislation is placed before Parliament? I have had the advantage of reading the speech of Lord Browne-Wilkinson and save on the construction of the Act, without recourse to Hansard, I agree with all he has to say. In summary, I agree that the courts should have recourse to Hansard in the circumstances and to the extent he proposes. I agree that the use of Hansard as an aid to assist the court to give effect to the true intention of Parliament is not "questioning" within the meaning of article 9 of the Bill of Rights. I agree that the House is not inhibited by any Parliamentary privilege in deciding this appeal."
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