§ Sir HUGH O'NEILL
I rise to a point affecting, I think, the privileges of this House. There appears in the Press this morning the account of an incident where, within the precincts of this House, a Member of this House was apparently interfered with, and I am not sure that he was not threatened, by a member of the public because of the action which he was taking or proposed to take upon a Bill now before this House. I think there are many precedents for attempts to interfere with Members in the course of their duties in this House being treated as breaches of privilege and severely dealt with by the House. It is, of course, essential that any matter of this kind should be raised at the earliest possible moment. I understand that the incident must have taken place some days ago. Apparently it was raised only yesterday by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton)—the Member affected—in the Scottish Standing Committee which is dealing with the Scottish Housing Bill, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Chairman of that Committee stated that it was a matter for the Serjeant-at-Arms. I submit to you, Sir, that a matter of this kind is something more than merely a question for the Serjeant-at-Arms in his capacity as guardian of the arrangements inside the House, and is a matter of which the House as a whole should take some notice. I quite realise that the proper person to raise this point would be the hon. Member for Bridgeton himself, but I understand he is now otherwise engaged, and perhaps unlikely to be in the House for the next few days. However, I do feel that a question of this sort is one which older Members of the House have a right to raise and to ask you for your Ruling upon it.
§ Sir H. O'NEILL indicated assent.736
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Of course, it is one of our rules that a question of privilege can only be raised at the earliest opportunity after the occurrence of the incident to which the question refers. I understand that the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) did raise this question, not as a question of privilege but in order to report it to the Chairman of the Committee. Of course, if a question of privilege is raised it must be raised in this House. It is quite true that if the incident to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred actually occurred—interference with a Member in his duties in this House, or perhaps a threat—it might create a very serious offence, and one which we should be quite right to take notice of and to deal with very severely. But as regards a question of privilege it would be my duty, in the first instance, to say whether a prima facie case had been made out, and I am afraid that I could not, on the information which the right hon. Gentleman has given me, and which is at our disposal, rule one way or the other. I certainly could not say that a prima facie case of breach of privilege had been made out. But the right hon. Gentleman has done right, if he wishes to raise this matter, or if it is to be raised at all, in raising it at the earliest possible moment, and if the hon. Member for Bridgeton who, as the right hon. Gentleman says, is at the moment otherwise engaged, thinks fit to raise this question as a matter of privilege, because it has been delayed but yet brought forward at the earliest possible moment, the fact of his being late would not prejudice the consideration of it in my mind. More than that I could not say to-day.
§ Mr. THORNE
If the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) is in a position to bring to your notice the man who insulted him, would you be entitled to order that man to be brought before this House and admonished at the Bar?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That question would not be for me to decide. All I have to decide is whether a primâ facie case has been made out for a question of privilege, and it would then he for the House to decide what is to be done with whoever is the offender.
§ Sir H. O'NEILL
Is it, therefore, your Ruling, Sir, that if the hon. Member for Bridgeton cares to raise this matter later 737 and move that it be referred to the Committee of Privileges, the fact that there has been some delay will not prejudice him?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is what I tried to convey. If the hon. Member for Bridgeton chooses to raise it in a few days' time or at some later date that will not prejudice it because it was not raised by him at the earliest possible moment.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Might I respectfully suggest that it should be made clear, which I think is your Ruling, that any subject who is accused of a breach of privilege—a subject who is outside this House—has a perfect right to have his case considered by the Committee of Privileges, and that no person can be judged unheard?