HC Deb 27 April 1953 vol 514 cc1760-2
Mrs. Braddock

On a point of order. I want your guidance and assistance, Mr. Speaker, if I may have it. I want to draw your attention—and I must apologise for not being in London until 2.50 p.m. today in order to give you notice—to an article which appeared yesterday in the "Sunday Express," headed: What a Baptism By Patricia Ford, M.P. In that article there are some statements which are not facts. I do not want to make reference to the whole of the article; I only want to draw your attention to one particular section of it and to ask your advice on what I must do about it.

I do this, Mr. Speaker, because you may remember that some time ago I was involved in a court case arising out of a supposed incident in the House. After the case was over, I was informed that this House had even more powers than the courts to deal with things that happened inside its own area. Because of that, I draw your attention to this position, and I should like to know, not just at the moment but perhaps when you have had an opportunity of fully looking at this article and of making some comments about it, whether it is a breach of Privilege on behalf of the Member concerned and also on behalf of the paper which published this article not to make certain, in advance, that the facts being published were correct.

The part to which I want to refer particularly, without making comment about the whole of the article on which I have very definite opinions, is this: There is even a room upstairs with a couple of beds, and the old stagers seem to get there first. One night I found both Mrs. Bessie Braddock and Dr. Edith Summerskill stretched out on them, and both snoring. First of all, I have never slept alongside or with my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West, and, secondly, which is of more importance, I was never in the room and have never been in the room at any time since it has been opened.

I have no objection at all to true statements being made. Arising out of the last incident, I have been subjected—I am not complaining—to many jocular comments on the wireless, the television and in the Press. I am not objecting to that now, but I am objecting on this occasion to a falsehood being printed in a newspaper and to the newspaper's printing it without finding out whether the facts were correct. The statements are untrue, and other hon. Ladies can verify that what I am saying is a fact. When I pass this newspaper to you, Mr. Speaker, apart from other things in the article—I am referring on this occasion particularly to myself—I hope that some steps will be taken, through the House, to right the wrong that has been done to me.

Miss Bacon

Further to that point of order. Apart from the bad taste of the article, in fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), I should like to state that on the occasion mentioned there were four occupants of the room in question. The hon. Lady the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford) and I were occupying chairs, and the two couches were occupied, one by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) and the other by the noble Lady the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess David son). I should imagine that it would be a peculiarly unobservant person who would mistake the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead for my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange.

Mrs. Ford

If I have offended the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) in any possible way, I apologise most wholeheartedly. I can only add that it is sometimes difficult to see in the dark.

Mr. Driberg

On a point of order. Would you be good enough, Mr. Speaker, when you have considered this matter, to give a ruling on what is really the more serious aspect of it, which has not been mentioned and has not been apologised for? There is a universal tradition and etiquette, to put it no stronger, observed by all hon. Members and all newspaper men, so far as I know, that no reference should be made at all in public to what may happen in those rooms and parts of the House which are private, such as the Members' Smoking Room. On a previous occasion, when reference was made in the "Observer" newspaper to something alleged to have happened in the Members' Smoking Room, that news paper published a very full apology the following Sunday. Would you kindly bear that in mind and include some reference to it in your Ruling?

Mr. Speaker

I was about to do so. I have heard what the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) has said and I am obliged to her for the suggestion that I should consider the case which she has put forward, for I had not read the article. I shall do so, and if there is anything that I can do to help clear up this matter I shall do it.

But I should say—I was about to say it in any case—that as long as I have been an hon. Member it has been understood by hon. Members who may write for the newspapers or talk outside that they should maintain a certain reticence about what happens in the private apartments of the House. The House will also bear in mind that the hon. Lady who wrote the article is a new Member. It is our custom to extend a good deal of indulgence to new hon. Members. I shall consider the matter further, but I say now that it has never been considered proper Parliamentary comment to disclose what happens in our own private apartments.