HC Deb 20 June 1963 vol 679 cc655-66

3.53 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

I beg to move, That Mr. John Profumo, in making a personal statement to this House on 22nd March, 1963, which contained words which he later admitted not to be true, was guilty of a grave contempt of this House. We are concerned with a matter of Privilege and it is as Leader of the House that I put this Motion before the House of Commons.

It arises out of the statement made by Mr. Profumo on 22nd March and his subsequent admission that part of that statement was untrue. It follows, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out on Monday, that there is a clear contempt of the House of Commons and it is right that, quite apart from any debate, we should find a formal way of recording the censure of the House.

There is one other matter which has been raised by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). This was that the words, twice repeated in the statement, "under protection of Parliamentary Privilege" were tendentious in a statement which, m the usual way, had been shown to Mr. Speaker. In the light of what has since been learned, I think that the House will agree that this is so.

I do not think that this is the appropriate occasion to add further censure or comment on what has been said. I accordingly advise the House that we record our displeasure.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

On behalf of this side of the House I support the Leader of the House.

Obviously, it is distasteful to anyone to have to have to return in any way to some aspects of this subject. On the other hand, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we have to protect our procedures. We have to avoid a future misuse by precedents being too easily and wrongfully established at this time.

I was very glad indeed that the right hon. Gentleman not only dealt with the question of the contempt conveyed by the inclusion in the statement of words that were untrue by Mr. Profumo, but that he also took up the point which had been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)—the references to himself and other of my hon. Friends who raised this matter during that night.

I was very glad indeed to find that it is the view of the right hon. Gentleman that the inclusion of the first and last paragraphs of that statement were most unfortunate. They not only reflected on my hon. Friends who, until this moment, have had no chance of having their reputations restored, but, also, in a way, seemed to bring the Chair into an unhappy situation in a way which none of us would wish to be repeated. I hope that we can draw from that the moral that everybody now realises how careful we must be about what we do in the field of personal statements.

There is a further point, to which the Leader of the House did not refer, but which was referred to the other night. That was that Mr. Profumo's statement purported to be a personal statement, but when one listened to what the Leader of the House said, as recorded in col. 166 of HANSARD for 17th June, it seemed very much more like a statement which was, in fact, written for the then Secretary of State by Ministers which he was then persuaded to make because Ministers thought that it would be convenient and proper, or whatever the word is, for everyone that he should do so. The other lesson that we have to learn from all this is that it is an abuse of the procedure of personal statements.

I quite agree that we do not want to carry this wholly distasteful matter further. We are very glad that the Motion will be added to our records. I trust that what the right hon. Gentleman and I have said will also form part of the record in future for the guidance of all of us.

In view of the very important public business now in front of us, I rather hope, if I may express the view, that we may proceed to carry the Motion without further debate.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I am sure that the Leader of the House is right in saying that we do not want to pass any further comments on Mr. Profumo, but I think it worth recording that, as the right hon. Gentleman said, this is a matter of Privilege and we are given our privileges for the conduct of business on behalf of the public.

This Motion does not mean that we are saying that the particular affront to this House is more important than the other aspects of this case, but that this House has a duty to the public and it is given privileges to discharge its duties. They are not our privileges, but the privileges of Parliament, to be exercised for the public weal. It is for that reason that I support this Motion.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I agree with this Motion. I have no criticism of it and no comment to make upon it, except one. The comment I make upon it is that it is perhaps a mark of the situation in which the House of Commons now finds itself that it feels almost unanimously the necessity of putting on the Order Paper and passing unanimously a Motion which I should have thought was unnecessary to be argued or restated.

Nobody ever thought that for a man making a personal statement in the House of Commons to tell a deliberate lie was anything other than this Motion describes it to be. What the necessity is for formally asseverating so obvious a proposition I do not myself quite appreciate.

There is only one other thing I wish to say. I hope that I can say it with due diffidence and due regard to the opinion of other people. I hope that this is the end of this matter. Mr. Profumo, in a difficult personal situation, made a bad mistake and something worse than a bad mistake. He has paid for it.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

Why not leave him alone?

Mr. Silverman

He has left the Government. He has involved himself in the probably irretrievable ruin of a quite distinguished political career. He has surrounded himself with public obloquy of a serious kind which it will take him a long time to live down. I express the hope that he may not be persecuted or prosecuted further and that we can all now agree to leave him alone.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

I must address you, Mr. Speaker, if I may, on a point of order.

Of course, we shall pass the Motion, but may I ask you, without any criticism, to reconsider the matter of personal statements? I say this with great diffidence, but I rather think that the last paragraph of that personal statement rather conflicts with Rulings which I have read before, and I have given some study to this matter.

Mr. Speaker

Would the hon. Gentleman think it more seemly that we should complete discussion upon the Motion and then deal with the point of order later, if it be a point of order to be discussed now?

4.3 p.m.

Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield)

Iintervene briefly in the debate as a private Member because this is a matter for the whole House and not in order to say anything further against Mr. Profumo. Enough has been said of him, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has said, he has paid in full the penalty for what he did.

I think that it would be improper for the House to pass the Motion without commenting further upon the point referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), namely, the abuse of the Privilege of the House not by Mr. Profumo so much as by the Government themselves.

I am surprised that the Leader of the House alone has put his name to this Motion. The Prime Minister made perfectly clear in his speech on Monday that the making of that statement was an act of the Government, of the whole Government. He made clear that, when the rumours began to spread, the Government deliberately sought an opportunity, as he said, to nail those rumours. They first hoped that this might be done by means of a libel action. They considered two possibilities of libel action and dismissed them. Finally, said the Price Minister, when my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and other hon. Members made their statements, the opportunity arose to nail the rumours and nail them without delay.

Members of the Government proceeded to draw up a statement. It was not Mr. Profumo's personal statement. The Leader of the House made perfectly clear, in his closing speech in the debate on Monday, that the statement was drawn up in Mr. Profumo's absence, that Mr. Profumo and his solicitor were afterwards called in to endorse it, and that he was not even allowed to alter it in one small particular. The statement was drawn up by the Law Officers of the Crown, by the Leader of the House, by the Chief Whip, and in the presence of another member of the Cabinet, the Minister without Portfolio. Therefore, they were taking full responsibility for it and they must take full responsibility for it.

But there was one member of the Government who was not there and who should have been there, the Home Secretary. The Leader of the House is very sensitive on this point, because, when the question was raised by my right hon. Friend and by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley as to the reason for the presence of the Minister without Portfolio and the absence of the Home Secretary, the Leader of the House had a fit of misrecollection. He told the House then that the Home Secretary had left some hours before the meeting. Later, at the end of the debate, he admitted that the Home Secretary was still in the building only eight minutes before the vital meeting began. He could have been present as a responsible Cabinet Minister and as one who was in the debate when the matter arose.

I think that the House is entitled to know why he was absent, why he was, obviously, deliberately absent. I can draw only one conclusion, and that is that the Home Secretary knew too much. By that time, the Home Secretary already knew that Mr. Profumo had been engaged in an improper association—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and that the question of whether or not he lied on a secondary point—

Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Member making a personal charge of dishonesty against another hon. Member? He cannot do it on this Motion. I think that it would accord better with the traditions of the House if he made quite clear whether he is doing so or not.

Mr. Warbey

What I am saying is that the statement we are asked to express ourselves upon today was not, in reality, a personal statement. It was a Government statement, and, as a Government statement, it was one for which the Government, all members of the Government involved, should take responsibility. I am saying that the Home Secretary, by his absence from that meeting at which the statement was drawn up, was showing that he was not able to be a party to the statement. Therefore, the contempt of the House is one in which is involved not only Mr. Profumo—

Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to repeat almost word for word the speeches which were made last Monday? Ought we to be subject to this repetition?

Mr. Speaker

I was waiting hopefully for the hon. Gentleman to comply with my request that he should state categorically whether or not he is making an accusation of personal dishonesty against the Home Secretary, because on that my proceedings must depend.

Mr. Warbey

I am not making any accusation of personal dishonesty at all. I said that he was absent from the meeting at which the statement was drawn up. I said that he could have been at that meeting and that, therefore, since he was absent on an occasion on which he probably could have been present, it was improper that he was not present at the meeting and a party to the drawing up of the statement.

Sir Hendrie Oakshott (Bebington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not within your recollection that what the hon. Member, in fact, said was that the reason for the Home Secretary's absence was that he knew too much?

Mr. Speaker

That is what caused me to examine what the hon. Gentleman has now declared to me was not an accusation of personal dishonesty against the Home Secretary.

Mr. Warbey


Sir T. Moore

Finish it now.

Mr. Warbey

The statement which the hon. Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott) made is quite correct. I said that the Home Secretary knew too much, and what I meant by that was that the Home Secretary by that time must have been informed of the inquiries made by the police and the Special Branch into the association of the people concerned in this case. That is what I meant by that statement, and that is why I say that the Home Secretary should have been present at this meeting at which the statement was drawn up.

Therefore, it is improper that he was not present at that meeting and quite improper that, along with other members of the Government who were present, he should not take the very grave responsibility which falls upon them of using the privilege of making a personal statement to secure a statement which was manifestly declared by the Prime Minister to be one desired by the Government in the interests of the Government in order to hush up rumours and to cover up a public scandal.

4.11 p.m.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

As one of the three hon. Members who were, by inference, at any rate, attacked in Mr. Profumo's personal statement, which we are now discussing, I am glad that the Leader of the House thought fit, in moving the Motion, to refer to the complaint made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) the other day—the fact that twice in the personal statement which, as we all know, was collectively drafted and collectively approved by the five Ministers, the allegation was made that we three—my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and I—were wrongfully using Parliamentary Privilege. I suggest that the House cannot lightly dismiss this aspect of the personal statement.

We three Members of the House are as jealous of our personal reputation and of the proper use of the procedure of the House as any other Member. For three months we have lived under something of a cloud, for we were attacked for raising this matter on 21st March. We were accused publicly in many quarters of scandal mongering and having done something purely for the sake of sensation seeking. It was said that this was, on our part, an abuse of the procedure of the House. We now know that, far from abusing the procedure of the House, we were providing the very opportunity for clearing this matter on the Floor of the House which the Prime Minister himself had been awaiting anxiously.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

It was a public service.

Mrs. Castle

In other words, as my hon. and learned Friend rightly said, we had done a public service.

It would have been less than courteous if the Leader of the House had moved this Motion without referring to that, but while I appreciate his reference, I still regret that his remarks were not clearer and more general, for he said, I think somewhat obscurely and somewhat grudgingly, that these words to which we objected had proved to be tendentious in the light of what has happened since.

I am suggesting in all seriousness, in the interests of the procedure of the House on future occasions, that that is not an adequate way to dispose of the matter. Irepeat, the Leader of the House was one of those who approved the statement. He must have been one of those who were aware that these rumours were accumulating so seriously that an opportunity to clear them was urgently needed, that the Press had been effectively silenced both by the fear of libel and by the Vassall case and, that being so, that the only place they could be cleared was on the Floor of the House.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that it was in keeping with our responsibility as Members of the House that we made the statements which we made on 21st March, recognising that we might well be left with accusations of sensation mongering against our name—and we might have been so left indefinitely if Dr. Ward had not eventually spoken out and forced Mr. Profumo's retraction.

In view of that background knowledge, it seems that the insertion of these words was tendentious not in the light of what has happened since, but at that time. If they are wrong now, they were wrong then, because the circumstances were the same. Although I do not wish to detain the House, and to delay an important debate, in view of these facts I feel that the Leader of the House would perhaps wish to make it clear that when those words were included by him, among the five Ministers, he did wrong to this House and he did wrong to us; that he recognises now, however agitated he must have been at the time in being led into an error of judgment, that we were making a proper use of Parliamentary Privilege, whether or not the rumours to which we were referring were right or wrong.

That was not the point. The point was that everybody wanted the air cleared and that this was the only way in which it could be done. The right hon. Gentleman thought that he could clear the air by Mr. Profumo's denial, and it makes no difference that we have found that Mr. Profumo's denial was a lie. It would be quite wrong if we left the matter so that hon. Members in future were inhibited in the proper use of Parliamentary procedure in this way.

An hon. Friend said to me only this morning that at the time we raised the matter he thought that we were wrong and publicly attacked us for doing so. He said to me this morning, "I want you to know that I have since publicly retracted my criticism of you and have said that I realise that you were right."

I am sure that the Leader of the House will have just as much generosity and honesty as my hon. Friend and will place on record in the annals of the House the apology which I think is due to us.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)

I do not want to prolong the discussion on a matter which I think is acutely painful to most of us on personal and public grounds, but I thought that someone from this side of the House should acknowledge what was said by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman). I think that his approach is one which the whole House should take to the personal aspect of the matter. I should like to thank him for having said what he did and to say how much I commend it to the House.

4.19 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I, too, do not wish to press this matter, but perhaps the Leader of the House could clear up one matter of procedure. What is to be done now? Apparently there is no precedent in the annals of the House for a case of this kind; and we hope that a case of this kind will never occur again.

As far as I can gather, the last case affecting a Member of the House affected Mr. Daniel O'Connell, in 1827, but there have been cases affecting people who were guilty of an affront to the Privilege of the House who happened to be outside it. Hon. Members may recall the case of Mr. John Junor on 24th January, 1957, who was brought to the House, having been found guilty of a breach of Privilege, and was severely reprimanded by Mr. Speaker.

I have seen in one quarter of the Press that someone might have been considering doing that sort of thing again. I hope that it will not be done. I remember the case of Mr. Junor very well. He was summoned to the Bar of the House. It was a most solemn occasion. He conducted himself with such dignity and delivered his apology and retraction with such solemnity that at the end of it everybody was wondering who was rebuking whom.

It might well be that, if Mr. Profumo were summoned to the Bar of the House, he might ask, "Which of you is prepared to throw the first stone?" I do not think that there would be a rush to New Palace Yard to get the stone. Therefore, I hope that we shall not go through any of the solemnities and the ritual which were associated with this matter on a previous occasion.

I should like to ask the Leader of the House how the decision we shall reach is to be communicated to Mr. Profumo. I gather that diplomatic relations with his Chief Whip are broken. I do not know wheher it will be the Clerk of the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must remember the content, and the sole content, of the proposition we are now discussing.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

It seems to me. Sir, that it is relevant to ask how Mr. Profumo is to be informed of this matter. I leave the Leader of the House to answer that question.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. Iain Macleod

May I simply reply on one or two factual points which have been made, because I very much agree with what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) said. An hon. Member asked why this Motion stands in my name alone. The answer is because I am Leader of the House and because, by custom, the Leader of the House is Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, and this is a matter of Privilege.

On matters arising out of the debate, the remarks which the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey)—in other circumstances I would use stronger language; now I simply say "most unfairly made" about my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—I point out to him that if he will look at an intervention made by the Home Secretary—I am speaking from memory, but I think that it was in the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)—he will find that the specific point he put before the House today was there refuted by the Home Secretary himself.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was quite right. This is unprecedented. I cannot believe that the House would wish to bring Mr. Profumo to the Bar of the House. I think that this Motion is the right way of proceeding.

I say very sincerely to the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) that of course I understand her position. Iam grateful for the fact that she acknowledged that I tried to find words to meet it. I am sorry if she does not think that they are entirely satisfactory. I thought that they met the point that had been made. Statements made in the House are—thisis just a matter of fact—privileged and it is not necessarily in any way an abuse of Parliament that this should be done. The words I used were carefully chosen and they were certainly meant to meet the position of the hon. Lady.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That Mr. John Profumo, in making a personal statement to this House on 22nd March, 1963, which contained words which he later admitted not to be true, was guilty of a grave contempt of this House.

Mr. C. Pannell


Mr. Speaker

May I address the hon. Gentleman for a moment? I am much obliged to him for deferring the matter he wished to raise. I think that I heard enough of what he was seeking to raise for me to be grateful to him for proposing a suggestion about the better control of personal statements. I hope that he will forgive me for saying that no question of order arises upon the Motion with which we have just dealt. It would be proper, perhaps, for consideration by the Select Committee on Procedure if tabled in the proper way, but I do not think that it arises now.

Mr. Pannell

With great respect, Sir, I tried to put it on a point of order because I thought that we were dealing with it on a Motion and I know of no other appropriate time.

; All I am asking you, Sir, with very great respect, is whether you will reconsider the question of personal statements in the light of precedents and in the light of rules which have been laid down. I have the impression—again, I say this with deep respect, Sir—that the last paragraph of the personal statement which we were dealing with went beyond what is allowed in a personal statement.

The rule is, in effect, that Members making personal statements should not be able to threaten other Members or other people. The view is strongly held, and it has been expressed to me, that it was very unfortunate— am choosing my words carefully—that the last paragraph of Mr. Profumo's statement passed the Chair. I would be glad if you would look at this matter, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

I understood that that was what the hon. Gentleman was seeking to say. I have the point. I think that it is important, but I do not think we can deal with it now. Of course, I will consider what the hon. Member has said.