HC Deb 25 April 1969 vol 782 cc811-3
Mr. Speaker

Sir Douglas Glover.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

The matter which I wish to raise and on which I wish to submit a proposition to you, Mr. Speaker, I raise with a good deal of sorrow and in humility. I would have preferred to raise it on Monday but the Rules of the House preclude this. If the matter was not raised this morning, it would be time barred, and, therefore, it must be raised at the earliest opportunity and not at the earliest convenient opportunity. I believe that the matter which I wish to put before you represents a grave contempt of this House and there is, therefore, in me a good deal of anger at the occurrence which I wish to recount to you.

I ought, I think, to give a little explanation. From time to time, this House appoints Select Committees. In my submission, those Select Committees are this House in miniature, having the same powers, privileges and protection as the House itself, and when the House appoints those Select Committees it gives them that understanding.

Yesterday, a Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Education and Science, consisting, I believe, of five hon. Members, went to Essex University, having arranged to go there to take and collect evidence to bring before this House on the subject of higher education. It is reported to me that the Sub-Committee, when its members arrived, went into a meeting with students which, I gather, was in a fairly exuberant, if not riotous, condition when the meeting began.

Whether it was because of the way the meeting was conducted I have not been able to ascertain, but, shortly, the papers that were on the table in front of the Members of Parliament were scattered, I understand that the microphone was thrown out of the window, the table was overturned and some of the members of the Sub-Committee were physically manhandled and certainly were victims of a great deal of verbal assault.

I understand that as a result of this occurrence, the Select Committee has agreed that it will take elsewhere the evidence which it wishes to collect. It seems to me that the students of Essex University have deprived the Select Committee of this House of its opportunity to carry out the duty laid upon it by the House. I submit that it is a grave contempt of the House and is a prima facie case of breach of privilege, and I should like you so to rule.

Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

I was the Chairman of the Sub-Committee in question. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) did not tell me that he was raising this as a matter of privilege, and the first I knew about it was by listening to the 8 o'clock news. I therefore have not had an opportunity of consulting my colleagues.

My own respectful opinion is that the House should not elevate this trivial affair into a portentous issue of privilege. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The young man who scattered the papers was obviously the tool of others and, equally obviously, a "nut" case who should be in hospital. It seems a pity to spend large sums on educating graduate "nuts". The real targets for the displeasure of the House, if it wants a target, are the 50 or 60 ill-mannered and foul-mouthed men and women who prevented their own Vice-Chancellor and five of his distinguished academic colleagues from giving evidence.

I read in one of the morning papers that a university spokesman describes the incident as "regrettable". Perhaps that is one reason why these things go on. I think that the President of the National Union of Students was nearer the mark in describing it as "intolerable and inexcusable". I respectfully suggest, none the less, that the House should leave these people, who are not by any means typical of the students at Essex University—very far from it—to be dealt with by the university authorities.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate a submission.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

I wish to make a submission to you, Mr. Speaker, within the hearing at least of the Deputy Leader of the House, that this raises a matter of what happens to peripatetic Sub-Committees which may be in all parts of the country, not to say all parts of the globe, and how far they can be protected by privilege. In the light of what the Chairman of the Sub-Committee has said, with which I agree, I wonder whether this is a matter not for the normal channels, but is a new situation which the House should consider. But for the present, I hope that the House will consider its dignity by not bothering too much about any indignity that may be put on another Sub-Committee.

Mr. Christopher Price (Birmingham, Perry Barr) rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate the submission which has been made to me.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

On a point of order. I believe that the comments made by the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden), command considerable sympathy and support in this House. I wonder whether, in the light of those remarks—I do not wish to go out of order—my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) will consider withdrawing the submission that he has made.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that that cannot be done.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) for giving me notice, late last night, that he wished to raise this matter today. In accordance wih the usual practice, I will consider the submission that he has made and rule on it on Monday after Questions.

Mr. C. Pannell

On a point of order. With respect, Mr. Speaker, there is nothing to stop the House deciding here and now that it is contempt of the House and passing straight on. It does not need Mr. Speaker in this at all.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The practice of the House on matters of privilege is that I should take time to consider the submission.

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