HC Deb 26 October 1960 vol 627 cc2355-7
Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)

Before you give your Ruling, Mr. Speaker on the point of Privilege which I raised with you yesterday, may I point out that since my statement of yesterday I understand from a Member or two who have been on the earlier delegation that another half-dozen Members are now in Central Africa under the same auspices and, I understand, more are lined up to go in the future.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) asked me yesterday to rule upon a complaint relating to an article in a Sunday newspaper, and I am obliged to him. I have carefully considered the matter together with the submissions of the hon. Member and the aid of authority.

Two quite distinct questions arise for me: whether the facts alleged in the article, if true, reveal conduct on the part of anyone which constitutes prima facie breach of Privilege of this House and, alternatively, the other way round, if the facts in the article are untrue, whether the publication of the article or the writing of it in itself constitutes a prima facie breach of Privilege of this House.

I have given the matter the best consideration I can and I have reached the firm conclusion that that is not so with regard to either position. I think it best to emphasise once again the effect of my opinion thus expressed. It has no bearing whatever on the substantive question of whether a breach of Privilege has been committed. Only the House can decide that. The sole effect of what I have said is that it does not enable me to give to the hon. Member's complaint priority over Orders of the Day. If the hon. Member wants to test the feeling of the House, he is, of course, perfectly free to put down an appropriate Motion.

Mr, Bowles

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am certain that you have given the question most careful consideration. Unless the Leader of the House feels that he should do so, I should like to test the feeling of the House and put down a Motion at the beginning of the next Session.

Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

Although, obviously, one does not want to challenge your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, on the matter which you have been asked to consider, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) nevertheless made a statement yesterday, when he raised this matter, to the effect that the article was either true or untrue. He went on to say that if it was true a firm of business consultants has tried, and possibly succeeded, to influence Members of Parliament. …"—[OFFICAL REPORT, 25th October, 1960; Vol. 627, c. 2158.] My hon. Friend also went on to say that he did not know who the Members were. I wish to inform him and the House that I was one of them.

Obviously, I cannot carry the matter any further forward in detail at this stage, Mr. Speaker. I hope to catch your eye, however, on an appropriate occasion, when I shall inform the House in more detail and give my personal views. I am speaking only for myself today, but I hope that in fairness to all of us my hon. Friend would not wish, directly or indirectly, to allege that I, as one of those Members who went there, would ever allow myself to be induced by any consideration whatever, from any source whatever, to be deflected from the path of expressing my own independent point of view to the House

Mr. Bowles rose

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that we had better discuss this fully now. I understood the hon. Member for Nuneaton merely to be addressing himself to his reading of the article, not necessarily saying that it was true or untrue.

Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)

On a point of order. I was one of those who went with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and four others, and I would be grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, if you would just allow me to say one or two words about it.

The reason is that I really think that Members require some protection when allegations have been made of the kind made yesterday by the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). A similar kind of allegation was made in the News Chronicle, now deceased, a week or two ago, and by the threat of a libel action we got a very humble apology on the Monday following the Saturday. If these sorts of allegations are to be made, because Members go under the auspices of the Central African Government or any other Government—or yacht clubs or anything of that kind—I really do not see how Members can accept any invitations at all and retain their integrity, which hon. Members opposite like the Member for Nuneaton have suggested we have lost.

Mr. Bowles rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that in view of my Ruling about this, which the House was good enough to accept, we had really better not try to discuss it now. I have suggested that the hon. Member for Nuneaton, in very properly making his complaint, as he was entitled to do, was saying only what was his interpretation of what the article meant and not saying that those things had necessarily happened.