HC Deb 18 July 1963 vol 681 cc740-2
Mr. C. Pannell

I wish, Mr. Speaker, to raise a matter of Privilege, of which I have given you notice. It relates to what appeared in the Evening Standard of Wednesday, 17th July, on page 14, where it is stated that a garden fete is to be held at Stansted Hall, in Essex, on 27th July, and that Mrs. Butler has asked many prominent people for gifts.

I will not go into the matter at great length, but the thing to which I object is that she states that she is expecting a gift from the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, and, among other distinguished gentlemen, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker.

I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that this is a serious matter because it is stated that All proceeds will go to local Conservative funds. I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that here there is a principle at stake. I quote from "Procedure of the House of Commons" by Redlich and Ilbert, Vol II, where, among other things, it is stated: Above all, the member of the House of Commons who is elected to the chair ceases, from the moment of his election, to belong to any political party; this condition precedent for the Speaker's impartiality, his exclusion from the conflict of parties, has been an unwritten law of Parliament since the beginning of the nineteenth century. I hope that there are hon. Members who deprecate any departure from that principle.

I wish to say straight away, with regard to the Lord Chief Justice, that I think that though the statement about him is in bad taste, presumably he has his own rules. I have nothing more to say about that, except to ask the House to reflect on the propriety of the Lord Chief Justice being asked to contribute any gift to a Conservative fête.

Sir, I wish to say straight away that I acquit you of any conduct derogatory to your Office—[Hon. Members: "Hear hear."] I hope that hon. Gentlemen will not treat this matter with levity, because a matter of principle is involved. Had there been a Speaker in the Chair from the Labour benches hon. Gentlemen opposite would have been up in arms about it.

It is a rule of this House, laid down by Mr. Speaker Fitzroy, that the antecedents of the Chair must never be referred to, however lurid they may be. But hare we are concerned with Mr. Speaker now. I am sure, Sir, that you have been fastidious about the conduct of your Office ever since you were called to occupy the Chair.

What I am complaining about is a statement in a newspaper which may be read by ignorant persons who do not know you so well as hon. Members of this House do, and who might draw a bad inference and a wrong conclusion. The inference which might be drawn is that you have departed from the strict code which must be assumed by everyone who comes to your Office and I want to say that I think the statement which appeared in the Evening Standard surely must be as impertinent as it is unwarranted.

This, Mr. Speaker, is a serious matter, and I hope that the House will appreciate that. I hope you will rule that there is prima facie a breach of Privilege, or at least that you will stigmatise this conduct as reprehensible and such as calls for an apology. The independence and impartiality that has evolved over the centuries on the part of the Chair is something which we in this place have to safeguard either from the wives of prominent politicians or from the columns of the Press. Any assault on your integrity is a contempt of the House, Mr. Speaker, and, therefore, I ask you to rule.

Copy of newspaper handed in.

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for providing me with a copy of the newspaper. I will consider his complaint in the light of the advice available to me, and the precedents, and I will rule tomorrow.

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