§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) will forgive me if I remind him that a personal statement should be brief and non-contentious.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett
I take the opportunity to make a short personal statement arising from the incident involving allegations against me which took place after Questions yesterday. As hon. Members know, I was not present in person, and I would just like to mention in that context that it was in no way intended as a discourtesy that I was not present but the intimation that this matter was to be raised did not in fact reach me until after the incident I refer to took place.
I would say further in that context that I did have a chat on another matter with the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. I. Mikardo) on the evening of 7th May and there was no mention by him that his intimation was on the way, nor of the substance of the matter.
The hon. Member made allegations that I had irregularly obtained information in advance of other hon. Members and imparted it irregularly to certain organs of the Press before the authorised time of publication. The alternative allegation was that I had done it properly but that the newspapers in question had in some way irregularly published it before the authorised date.
722 In consequence of this statement being made and the Minister's reply, which, of course, pointed out how entirely wrong these allegations were, I took the opportunity before raising this matter formally here again to write personally to the hon. Member for Reading, South last night to ask him whether he would close the matter by giving me a personal withdrawal or apology during the course of the evening, in which case nothing more would be said; otherwise, I would have no alternative but to seek an opportunity to make this statement.
In reply to that note I received a letter which is very brief and with which I think I ought to trouble the House. It says:Dear Bennett, If at any time I made any allegation against anybody which turned out to be unfounded, I should, of course, take the first opportunity of withdrawing it and of my own volition. But today I made no allegation against you at all, and so there is simply nothing to withdraw. Yours truly.It only remains for me to add that when I received that note, personal intimation was given by me last night to the hon. Member for Reading, South that I had no alternative but to raise the matter as I am doing now, and that I would do so this morning. In his absence today, I cannot, of course, ask him whether he would like to reconsider his refusal and to offer me a withdrawal. In the circumstances all I can do is leave it to the judgment of the House.