Mr. E. P. Smith
I rise to ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, in regard to an incident which occurred yesterday morning and of which I have given you notice.
Standing Committee E was summoned to consider the Censorship of Plays (Repeal) Bill. We did not have a quorum. Subsequently the hon. Member for Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) informed me that as he was making his way along the corridor to the Committee someone had accosted him and endeavoured to dissuade him from attending. I asked who it was. The hon. Member was reluctant to tell me. Eventually, he admitted, in reply to a question of mine, that it had been a Mr. Powell, who is not a Member of this House but is a private individual constantly upon these precincts. The reason I named Mr. Powell was because during the 25 minutes I was in the Committee Room, I had observed Mr. Powell enter some six or seven times and obviously count the number of hon. Members present. The hon. Member for Queen's University of Belfast then said to me, "Do not bring me into it." I replied. 1151 "This is a serious matter. I cannot make such a promise." I then consulted some of my hon. Friends and some of the senior hon. Members of this House, and they advised me to approach you.
I should like to point out to you, Sir, that Mr. Powell happens to be employed as an agent by, amongst others, a committee of theatrical managers which is opposed to the Bill and had already lobbied all the Members of the Committee urging them to vote against it in Committee. Will you be good enough to rule whether Mr. Powell's action amounts in your judgment to a prima facie breach of Privilege?
§ Mr. Speaker
Of course, if it were a matter of Privilege it should have been raised yesterday, which was the first opportunity. Also, the hon. Member has only secondhand information; this has not been raised by the hon. Member concerned. However, I can tell the House that I am very concerned about this matter. I think that the first step which I ought to take is to refer the matter to the responsible authority for issuing passes to the House, that is to say, the Serjeant at Arms, and to ask him to give me a report, and then, having ascertained the facts, if necessary, the House could act on them and do what it thinks fit.
§ Mr. Eden
With great respect, I am a little uneasy about your statement, Mr. Speaker, unless I misunderstood it. Do we understand that you rule out any action on this case because it was not brought to your notice for 24 hours, for reasons which seem rather understandable as it did not concern the actual House itself, or is it the case that you are making these inquiries with a possible view of taking action even in respect of this case?
§ Mr. Speaker
Any report I got would not prejudice any action in the future. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I do not think that the facts of the case raise matters of Privilege. I have been into it most carefully. It may be a matter of discipline for the House, but it is not a matter of Privilege.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think there have been cases of Privilege ruled the other way, but I would say quite frankly that if I received a proper report, it would not rule out a Committee on this incident.
§ Professor Savory
May I say that this matter has been brought up entirely contrary to my wishes and without my consent? I was well able to protect myself, as I showed very clearly yesterday.