HC Deb 04 February 1969 vol 777 cc218-21
Mr. Speaker

Mr. Emrys Hughes. A point of order.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Mr. Speaker, I wish to draw your attention to an item of news in today's Glasgow Herald. I am not sure whether this comes under the heading of privilege. I am prepared to accept your guidance. I have given you private notice of this matter.

There is in this paper, which has a wide circulation in Scotland, a long news item entitled: Scottish Select Committee under Fire. Fears that 'safe' Labour M.P.s will be chosen. I do not desire to read the whole of this item, but it is to the effect that before the end of the week the Leader of the House is to announce the names of the members of the Select Committee which is to inquire into the Scottish Office. The list contains the names of hon. Members on both sides of the House who, it says, are being selected for this Committee.

I submit that if that is true it is discourteous to the House that, through a Scottish newspaper, and before the matter has been brought to the notice of the House, the names of the members of this Select Committee are made known.

It is very important that these Select Committees should, from the beginning, have unbounded public confidence. The allegation in this article is that the Committee has been packed on the Labour side by safe Members, three of whom are Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I do not wish to comment on this, but it is essential that the people of Scotland should feel confident that this Committee is not being packed with what I call Right-wing hon. Members of the Labour Party.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am seized of the point of order, but we cannot discuss, on this point of order, the merits of the structure of the Committee. The hon. Member is calling attention to the fact that a newspaper has published an account before the House is aware of it. That, I take it, is his point of order.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I will cut it short, Mr. Speaker.

I should like the assurance of the Leader of the House that there has been no leak from his Department or from the Scottish Office and none from the office of the Patronage Secretary. We are entitled to this assurance, so that the appointment of Select Committees will be done according to the precedent of the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question of leakages or non-leakages is not a matter for Mr. Speaker, but one which the hon. Gentleman must raise with the Leader of the House.

Mr. William Hamilton

I believe that it is true that all the copies of the Glasgow Herald have disappeared from the Members' Tearoom and I understand that it has been done on the authority of a Minister of the Crown. Would you inquire, Mr. Speaker, whether the newspapers have been so withdrawn, and by whom and on whose authority?

Mr. Speaker

If the facts are as the hon. Gentleman says, I will certainly look into the allegation which he has made. I did not know that the newspaper was so popular.

Mr. W. Baxter rose

Mr. Speaker

On the same issue?

Mr. Baxter

This is another point, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the question of persons from either side of the House to sit on this Select Committee.

Is this not completely out of order, when there is an Amendment on the Order Paper to the official Motion that a Select Committee should be set up? The Amendment is in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and myself and is more or less to the effect that the members of the Select Committee shall be appointed by Members of Parliament for Scotland. If, perchance, the report in the Glasgow Herald is true, it would presuppose that the selection of Members for the Select Committee had been made by the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip, or the Whips' Office, and neither one nor the other of those can, or has a mandate to, speak for the people of Scotland or for hon. Members for Scotland. I would hope—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am seized of the hon. Member's point. He must not speak to his Amendment now. He must raise this issue either at Business Question time on Thursday or when the Motion to set up the Select Committee, together with his Amendment, is before the House.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Before you probe too deeply into the affairs of the Glasgow Herald and this story, Mr. Speaker, would you bear in mind the principal problem which the Committee of Selection will have, that very few Labour Members for Scotland will be here for very long?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point for me.

Mr. English

Further to the original point of order. May I suggest that you can certainly rule, Mr. Speaker, that it is not a matter of privilege for the Press to print what is obviously true? We all know that, in practice, members of Select Committees are selected, whether rightly or wrongly, by the two Chief Whips on either side. It is surely not a matter in which the privileges of the House should be raised against the Press publishing what is the truth.

Mr. Speaker

The question of privilege has not been raised with the Chair.


Mr. Emrys Hughes

I wish to raise a different point of order. You will recollect, Mr. Speaker, that when I approached you this morning I discussed with you a question of privilege. After our discussion you suggested to me that the matter should be placed before the Leader of the House, that I should inform him and that he would no doubt be prepared to make a statement. I have informed the Leader of the House and I understand that he is prepared to make a statement. May we have it now?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend did write to me immediately on the subject, Mr. Speaker. He is dealing with a report in the Press which I can neither confirm nor deny. In the end, the question of the appointment of hon. Members to a Committee is a matter for a Motion on the Order Paper. There is no such Motion. I shall certainly look into the matter and shall be prepared to make a statement on Thursday.