§ 2.26 a.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
I beg to move,That the matter of the rights of any honourable Member of this House who may be detained in one of Her Majesty's Prisons, and of his or her constituents, be referred to the Committee of Privileges; and that they do consider and report to what extent the privileges of this House require that such a Member should be granted facilities to carry out his parliamentary duties while in prison.There are two principal reasons why it is important to move the Motion. First, it is clear from the degree of interest shown by many hon. Members recently in the procedural and constitutional issues raised by the imprisonment of the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) that there is a widespread desire in the House that these issues should be clarified from the point of view of the privileges of any Member of the House in a situation of this kind. A sufficiently wide area of doubt has been revealed by this case for it to be in the interests of the House as a whole to review the question in a general context.
It is equally clear that hon. Members in all parts of the House are concerned with the problem posed for constituents if their Member is unable in a situation of this kind to carry out whether wholly or partly, his or her parliamentary duties and thereby they are deprived, through no fault of their own, of their entitlement to full Parliamentary representation.
These are matters, I think the House will agree, of considerable constitutional importance, evoking major historical precedents and because of that the Government are properly concerned. Above all, however, these are matters with which the House of Commons itself is conerned, as it would be a sad day for our democratic institutions if it were the prerogative of the Government of the day to determine in what circumstances a Member, duly elected, should exercise his or her parliamentary responsibilities. It therefore seemed to the Government that the proper course was for this issue to be referred to the Committee of Privileges, consisting as it does of a number of the most senior Parliamentarians among us, for its consideration and for 948 the Government to make any recommendations to the House for any changes in practice in the light of the Committee's advice.
I do not wish to detain the House further at this stage. I hope that the House will share my view that a reference to the Committee of Privileges is the most appropriate course for us to follow, in what has obviously been a very difficult case for the House, in the confident knowledge that the Committee will give this important issue its earnest and authoritative consideration.
§ 2.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Latham
I was about to say that my admiration for the Leader of the House grows daily. I am becoming convinced that he would be able to sail oil the Prime Minister's boat single-handed since he has been handling most of the matters which would seem to concern colleagues other than himself. The Motion which he has been kind enough to lay before the House follows very closely the Early Day Motion to which 89 hon. Members have subscribed. The fact that it is somewhat detailed may make it possible for the Committee of Privileges to deal with wider issues than would have been possible if the Early Day Motion had been before us.
I want to approach the subject tonight in a somewhat lower key than some of the exchanges we have had during the day and earlier. I feel less obligated to make an extremely brief speech having spent the last three and a half hours waiting in the Chamber. I know that the House has been discussing important matters but I doubt very much whether in terms of parliamentary precedence there are many matters which are of greater importance than the issues raised in the recent case.
One thing, which I believe is well understood in the House, although there may be some exceptions, but which may be misunderstood outside, is that it ought 949 to be made clear that those of us who have been pursuing this matter have never had it in mind and have never sought to claim that Members of Parliament should in any way be above the law. It may well be argued that as Members of Parliament, in one sense, we have a greater duty to observe the law. I recall an anecdote recounted to me when I came to the House a short while ago, about the Member of Parliament who was stopped by a policeman for speeding and wanted to use the fact that he was a Member of Parliament somehow or other to get easy treatment. The police constable replied, having found out that he was dealing with a Member of Parliament, "You make the laws, sir; it's up to you to observe them." The colleague travelling with the hon. Member felt that that constable deserved promotion.
That attitude is generally right. The Motion is headed "Privileges", and I feel that it is a pity that is does not have the same heading as the Early Day Motion, which was "The Rights of Hon. Members." It is that with which we are concerned, and perhaps even more particularly the rights of constituents, as the Leader of the House has said. We do know that there are some instances when a constituent can seek redress only through his Member of Parliament. The classic example is a matter which might be referred to the Ombudsman. It is also true that although one is concerned about the rights of constituents, one does not want Members of Parliament to be above the law.
It is true, too, that hon. Members have certain duties and obligations beyond those of the ordinary citizen. They have obligations to Parliament, and one particular matter that I would ask the Committee on Privileges to examine is the appeal judgment in the case which has given rise to this, where the question of the right of the Member of Parliament to be on the scene of a particular incident in which the Member has special reason to be interested was questioned. In East London there were incidents recently of which I as Member for Paddington, North had special reason to take account. If there had been some particular incident there I would have felt, on behalf of my constituents, that 950 there were special reasons why I should be admitted to that area. This is a parallel to the situation in Northern Ireland.
When this matter was first raised, some hon. Members opposite felt that it was rather absurd to suggest that a Government majority might be imperilled as a consequence of a number of Members being imprisoned. I hope that some of the exchanges over the last two or three weeks have led those who were in some doubt to realise, as the Leader of the House has realised from the beginning, that this is an extremely serious matter.
As Members would expect, because of the interest created by this matter, I have had many letters, most of which have been sympathetic. But I have had one which threatened to shoot me if I went to Belfast last Tuesday. I was saved by the fact that my secretary failed to give me the letter—and, I understand, quite deliberately. I trust that that can be interpreted as loyalty and that there was no other motive. However, I should like to refer to one letter because it has some bearing on the public attitude to the question whether Members are claiming privileges beyond that which is reasonable.
The letter states:Nothing will be missed by the absence from Westminster of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster. She does not deserve sympathy. You must be in love with her to raise this matter".The letter concludes:Perhaps you are Irish too".I have been gratified that a number of Conservative Members have in the last few days indicated that they are not as impatient about this matter as some of their colleagues have demonstrated in this Chamber when I have raised points of order about it. This leads me to the point as to why I as an English Member of Parliament should be raising this matter in connection with a Northern Ireland Member. It is proper and desirable that an English Member should have raised it. This is not simply a Northern Ireland matter which the House can regard as unique and different.
I acknowledge that I am concerned about the position of the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster. I hope that I shall not stray out of order if I convey 951 at the request of the hon. Lady three very brief messages.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. May I help the hon. Gentleman? He is not out of order in referring to the specific case of the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster.
§ Mr. Latham
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker.
The hon. Lady has confirmed that she has been pursuing, or attempting to pursue via the prison governor, with the Stormont authorities the very points which we have been pursuing in the House. Secondly, she has asked me to convey her personal gratitude and appreciation to those who are concerned about her well-being and her difficulty. Thirdly, the conditions which she is experiencing give no real cause for complaint, bearing in mind that it is a gaol in which she is obliged to live at present. Although not many hon. Members opposite may be particularly interested in that piece of news, I am sure that many of my hon. Friends will be pleased to hear it and to know that civilised treatment is being meted out to our hon. Friend in Armagh Gaol. [HON. MEMBERS: "Really."]
§ Mr. Latham
I am surprised that the party of gallant Gentlemen on the benches opposite are not concerned about the lot of a lady Member of the House who finds herself in this situation.
I go on from that to say that I am genuinely and sincerely concerned primarily with the constitutional questions which have arisen out of this situation. Some hon. Members opposite may choose to be sceptical and cynical. It is for them to judge whether what I am saying is the true position, but I assure those who are prepared to listen that this is the case.
On the many issues which have arisen out of this incident, the rules of the House and the past precedents have been put to the test and, having been put to the test, have been found wanting very much indeed. It is clear that there is a vast area of problems for which there is no adequate precedent and for which there is no adequate Ruling, 952 custom and practice by which we might be guided.
I would have hoped that the Leader of the House might have been able to include in his Motion a request that the Committee of Privileges should also consider and report upon whether any breach of privilege or contempt of the House has arisen in connection with all the circumstances relating to the imprisonment of the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster and all the matters consequential upon that and, in particular—I say this with care and advisedly—because earlier today, as the result of correspondence which was published and events leading up to it with which we are familiar, an Officer of this House was seriously maligned.
I hope that the Leader of the House, as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, will consider it proper that that Committee should also investigate that matter, because I believe that if it conducts such an investigation, it will find that the charges made against the Officer of the House were unwarranted and that the blame for what has happened rests elsewhere. I hope that due note will have been taken by the Leader of the House that the Clerk's letter was issued on 21st July and that the Home Office memorandum was sent to Stormont on 14th or 15th July. I emphasise that this is a matter which needs to be investigated closely.
I hope, too, that the Motion means, and that the Leader of the House will give an assurance, that all the broad issues which have been raised will be considered by the Committee of Privileges and that all the submissions which have been made to Mr. Speaker, as recorded in HANSARD, and Mr. Speaker's comments at the time will also be considered relevant to the report that the Committee prepares.
Some of us had thought that a Select Committee might have been a better way of dealing with the problem since we feared that the Committee of Privileges might, in the same way as is Mr. Speaker, be governed by precedent and, perhaps, be unable to rule because of some of the unique circumstances which arise in this case. The Leader of the House advises, I understand, that the Committee of Privileges is well able to make the fullest inquiries and need not be inhibited for 953 that reason. I hope that he will give that assurance in reply.
In addition, we have also the strange position which is consequential upon the devolution of many powers of the British Parliament to the Parliament in Northern Ireland. One of the serious matters which should be considered is what would be the position of a Westminster Member of Parliament who was imprisoned in Northern Ireland, not in the same circumstances as the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster but, perhaps, under the Special Powers Act operating in Northern Ireland, who might thereby be imprisoned without trial.
Furthermore, while, no doubt, hon. Gentlemen will quote precedents for the enlightenment of Members of the House, I hope, too, that the Committee of Privileges will look at the relationship between Stormont and this Parliament, because the maintenance of a Parliament in Northern Ireland must surely depend to some extent on a due recognition of the rôle of the two bodies and an avoidance of any situation in which Stormont would appear to be in contempt of this House.
Now, the Ministry of Home Affairs—and in this respect it is unique—I think may be ahead of the British Home Office, because as a result of the representations which constituents of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster have been making to Stormont, the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a memorandum, a very detailed one, dealing, as it sees it, with the rights of Members of Parliament, and it has said that it deems it wise to think in terms of Members of Parliament in general rather than that of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster in particular, although it goes on to add—and some hon. Gentlemen may particularly like to note this comment from the Ministry—This is not, of course, to be taken as implying any view whatsoever on whether the present case will remain unique.Perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite may like to reflect on the implications of that comment from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
This is a long document and I shall not quote it in full, but I should like briefly to indicate to the House what the statement says. It says:There is a degree of flexibility in the provisions of Prison Rules which enables 954 special arrangements to be made to meet the exceptional needs of individual prisoners. The Ministry recognises that Members of Parliament have responsibilities towards their constituents, and account can be taken of this in applying the provisions of Prison Rules to Members of Parliament serving sentences of imprisonment. Accordingly, since a Member of Parliament serving a sentence of imprisonment cannot carry out constituency business in person from the prison, he may be allowed special visits in order to arrange for an agent to carry out constituency business on his behalf. The agent in conjunction with the Member may prepare a list of not more than six constituency workers for the purposes of having access to the Member while in prison, whose names, together with his own, shall be subject to the Ministry's approval. A group of not more than three people, including the agent, from the approved list may visit the prisoner once weekly. These visits are to be subject to the following conditions.It is these five conditions which I particularly wish to draw to the attention of the House and of the Leader of the House:(1) They will take place in the sight, but not the hearing, of a prison officer.That would seem reasonable, to safeguard confidential discussions between a Member and his constituent.(2) Only matters relating to the affairs of the Member's constituents may be discussed.(3) The Member may be shown correspondence, but may not take possession of correspondence or any other article without the prior approval of the Governor.(4) The Member may not sign or issue letters except under the normal provisions of Prison Rules.This means that although the confidentiality of a constituent's matters in approaching the Member in the first instance is protected, the confidentiality is then breached, because any correspondence which the Member might then attempt to convey to a Minister or Government Department on behalf of a constituent would be subject to scrutiny and surveillance by the prison governor. This condition, I suggest, makes the arrangement very difficult to operate.
It goes on to say:(5) The visits are not be used as a means of passing unauthorised messages—i.e., the approved visitors shall not quote for publication statements on general political questions purporting to be those of the Member.Again, I ask the Leader of the House and the Committee of Privileges to take particular note of that, and to examine past precedents. I think they will be correct in examining precedents in Northern Ireland as well as elsewhere 955 since the Motion refers to Her Majesty's prisons and those in Northern Ireland are as much Her Majesty's prisons as those elsewhere in the United Kingdom, although they are under different ministerial responsibility. I hope that the Leader of the House will pay particular attention to the situation of a gentleman who is now a Member of the House but who was imprisoned become coming to the House and was apparently able from prison to issue sermons of highly political content. If it was in order for that prisoner, who was not a Member of Stormont or of this House, to make political statements whilst in prison, it would seem that the same facility should be offered to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster and others in a similar situation.
The regulations conclude:The agent may arrange with the governor to have mail addressed to the Member and delivered unopened to an address specified by the agent. This is on the understanding that the contents of any letters which contain threats against the Member or otherwise affect prison security are to be disclosed immediately to the prison governor.It will be clear on reflection that this set of regulations is not an adequate model of rules to meet the difficulties which arise and requires considerable clarification.
May I take the opportunity to pay a tribute to the very civilised attitude of the deputy prison governor who has been acting in this matter and has been most co-operative and helpful as far as he can within prison regulations.
I conclude by saying that your Ruling today. Mr. Speaker, has been extremely helpful. You have made it clear that no Ruling has been given by you that it would not be possible for the hon. Lady to be sworn in. This too is something which the Committee of Privileges must look at as a general principle. As a result of your Ruling today, the responsibility for the hon. Lady being unable to come to this House to take the oath has been fairly and squarely placed where it belongs, upon the Northern Ireland authorities, and not upon you, Sir, Officers of the House or any member of the British Government. The onus belongs there. There is a suspicion that there has been deliberate stalling in the hope that this problem would be incapable of resolution 956 because the House goes into recess tomorrow. We have been fighting against the passage of time, and I am delighted that even at this late stage—almost the eleventh hour on the Thursday before the recess—we have taken away from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland the figleaf it was using to cover its nakedness in the form of the Home Office memorandum of 14th or 15th July.
I suggest that it is important to establish publicly that there can be no justification for any suspicion of collusion between any officials in the Home Office in this country and those in the Ministry of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland. I understand that the Leader of the House will be chairman of the Committee of Privileges. May I request that that Committee should meet as soon as possible? It does not have to wait until the House comes back after the recess. I understand that, if it chose, it could meet next week. It could meet during the recess, and I suggest that some of these matters are sufficiently urgent for that to be considered.
As to the point about special treatment, I suggest that if there were a brain surgeon in prison whose services were specially desired, arrangements would be made for him to be released temporarily to perform an important function. Similarly—and this is particularly pertinent after the incident earlier today—if an explosives expert were in prison and his services became vital to the community, no doubt arrangements would be made for his temporary release on parole or in custody.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite interjected a while ago that there are precedents in other matters. There are also precedents for prisoners to be permitted to leave gaol temporarily to get married. If that is possible, it would not be unreasonable to show respect for the British House of Commons and allow a prisoner temporary leave in order that he or she might be sworn in as a Member in this House.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
Perhaps I might draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that one of the reasons why the hon. Lady is in prison is that she had been making explosive devices.
§ Mr. Latham
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's interjection, although it will prolong my speech. There is a great deal of misconception about this. If the hon. Gentleman has contributed to it, I am sure that he has done so inadvertently and not as one in full possession of the facts. I have a copy of the appeal judgment, which I will gladly lend him. That makes it quite clear that the offence of which the hon. Lady was convicted, rightly or wrongly, was that of incitement to riot. It was clearly established that she was not responsible for throwing any petrol bomb. That is the rumour which has been spread. She was guilty of throwing two things: first, some fruity words and, secondly, a stone which fell well short of the police in the confrontation which occurred—
§ Mr. Latham
I am leaving the point, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that you will appreciate that I made those observations only as a result of the interjection by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster).
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
A few moments ago, my hon. Friend exonerated the British Home Office from any collusion. Will he not agree that he has been a little sweeping in his remarks and that this issue should be investigated fully by the Committee of Privileges? My hon. Friend is not in possession of all the facts relating to this matter, and I do not think that he should be quite as sweeping in making that point.
§ Mr. Latham
When my hon. Friend comes to read my remarks, I think he will find that I said that the Committee of Privileges should seek to establish that there was no justification for any suspicion of colusion. I am not exonerating anyone. I am saying that it is important that this should be investigated to establish that there was no colusion. I do not deny the possibility that the investigation may find otherwise, though I sincerely hope not.
I want to emphasise that we are not asking for the special treatment of Members of Parliament. But they have duties and obligations which are different from those of ordinary citizens, and they should have the necessary facilities to exercise those functions and be able to 958 discharge those responsibilities as far as possible.
I hope that the report from the Committee of Privileges will be as comprehensive as is humanely possible so that we cannot in any instance in the future find ourselves subjected to the series of absurdities which have arisen in this matter over the past three weeks.
I conclude by expressing the hope and the request that the Committee will meet very soon; will report very soon; that this House will have an opportunity to debate this report in the very near future; and that, although it is being asked to deal with it in very general terms, it will pay detailed attention to all the issues which have arisen, not only of vital interest to the House but of important public concern.
§ 3.1 a.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham) has put before us matters of very grave concern to the whole House and has done so, except for the odd moment when he was perhaps subject to temptation, with a moderation of language which I hope I shall match.
The hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) is not present. It is her case which has given rise to the Motion before us and which we have to consider.
I do not propose, in her absence, to make any kind of attack on her. I would reserve anything I might have to say about her behaviour until such time as she is here. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
It is not in order to wander around an hon. Gentleman when he is addressing the Chair. Captain Orr.
§ Captain Orr
I do not intend to make any attack on the hon. Lady for Mid-Ulster in her absence because I would prefer to wait until such time as she is here in her place in the House and to address anything to her in the House.
I would prefer, looking at the matter from a party political point of view, that she were here now. I have always believed that her presence in the House and everything she has said here was to the advantage of my party and the things 959 in which I believe. I would infinitely prefer that she were here for another reason, that it would deprive her of the aura of martyrdom which is being created around her.
§ Captain Orr
I did not arrest her.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has not seen fit to address us earlier, because I had hoped to have the privilege of following him. I wanted the opportunity of congratulating him on his elevation to the stratosphere of the Front Bench and on his 57th birthday and on the new moderation which speaking from the Despatch Box might have induced.
§ Captain Orr
The question we are considering goes—and here at least the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and I might be in accord, though in nothing else—rather deeper than the hon. Gentleman who introduced the subject might have suggested. Underlying the whole subject that we are now discussing is the ancient dilemma—over which preside the ghosts of Wilkes and Bradlaugh, and even cases far beyond them in history—between the right of this House to determine its membership and the kind of people who shall be its Members, on the one hand, and the right of constituents to decide who shall represent them, on the other.
My right hon. Friend will tell me whether I am right or wrong, but I thought that the drafting of the Motion did not fully take into account the right of Parliament itself. It may be that the way that the Motion is drafted will not prevent the Committee of Privileges looking at the right of Parliament in the matter.
The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham) spoke of two rights: the right of the Member and the right of the constituents. But he forgot the third right—the right of Parliament—[Interruption.] I do not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman about the order, but at least the right of Parliament ought to be considered, and it is not specifically mentioned in the Motion.
§ Mr. Latham
I should like to point out, without going into great detail, that one matter that has been exercising my hon. Friends and me during the past three weeks is the right of Parliament to make inquiries of a responsible Minister about one of its Members imprisoned in Northern Ireland. I am as concerned as the hon. Gentleman about the rights of Parliament in the general sense. I wish that I had had his support in pressing for a reply on that particular point as well.
§ Captain Orr
I am talking in terms of the right of Parliament to determine who shall be Members. I will come to the hon. Gentleman's point later.
Before coming to the general question, I should like to make one comment only on the case of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster. If she were present I do not think that she would dissent from what I am about to say. One of the rights which hon. Gentlemen opposite have sought to establish for the hon. Lady is that even though she be in prison as a result of a criminal charge, she ought to be permitted to come to this House to take the oath. I do not think that I am misrepresenting what hon. Gentlemen have been trying to achieve.
It might not be unfair to remind the House, if it needs reminding—particularly hon. Members who have recently come in—what the hon. Lady has said about the taking of the oath in her book. This is the copy that she presented to the House. The hon. Lady said:Basically I am against the British Parliament anyway, and I perjured myself by taking the Oath of Allegiance to the British Queen. At the time the maiden speech seemed important. But what I would have liked to do was swear my allegiance to the common people and have a Socialist Government throw me out.That is what the hon. Lady wrote.
§ Captain Orr
Yes, she did. The hon. Lady has always been frank. I am sure that she would not attempt to deny or put a gloss on those words if she were here. I have no doubt that to some hon. Members, I believe the minority, the Oath of Allegiance is a pure formality, a ritual which is, to them, unmeaning and without significance.
This all raises the question whether the Committee of Privileges should pronounce 961 on this issue. Is the oath or affirmation something totally empty? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If it is, it is surely time for the Committee to suggest that it is no longer necessary. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never."] At least let us be consistent. I see the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale smiling. Shades of Bradlaugh, of course. But either the oath or affirmation is considered by hon. Members to be meaningful or it is an empty formality, which is time wasting—it consumes two long days at the beginning of every Parliament—and should be done away with. One way or the other. The House should not connive at an open mockery of the oath.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is making an extremely interesting speech, and perhaps some time the Committee of Privileges could discuss whether the oath we take is suitable in modern times. At this juncture, however, we are discussing the Motion, which is about the rights of an hon. Member who is in prison and the need for her to come here to take the oath. Although the hon. and gallant Gentleman is raising some interesting points, they are totally irrelevant to this debate.
§ Captain Orr
I fancy that most of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends would disagree with him. They have sought to establish, as one of the rights of the hon. Lady who is in prison, her right to take the oath. What I am saying is, therefore, within the competence of the Committee of Privileges—
§ Mr. Heffer
Whatever view the hon. Lady has about taking the oath, she came to the Bar of the House on the previous occasion and took the oath. [Interruption.] How she felt about it is of no importance. I dare say that many hon. Members have felt the same over the years but have taken the oath all the same. It does not matter whether some have been honest and have confessed their feelings and others have not. The hon. Lady took the oath. We are now considering how she can take the oath now so that she may carry out her duties to her constituents and have the rights of an hon. Member on behalf of her constituents. That is the whole basis of the argument.
§ Captain Orr
The hon. Member has not got the point yet. The point is: how does he or any hon. Member know 962 whether the hon. Lady, if she were brought here, would take the oath? She said in her book that she regretted it and would have preferred to have done something else. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We have listened to one side of the case without interruption. We must be fair to each other.
§ Captain Orr
If the hon. Lady came here it is at least open to doubt whether she would take the oath; we do not know. If in the case of the hon. Lady the oath is an empty formality, it is something which the Committee of Privileges should look at as to whether one can base a case of parliamentary privilege on a person coming from prison, if one is imprisoned, to take an oath which may be an empty and useless formality. This is something which I think the Committee of Privileges could rightly be asked to look at.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Am I not right in suggesting that the argument my hon. and gallant Friend is putting is that if a person were found guilty of sedition or treason, felony, clearly that person would not be able to take the oath? Is he not saying that this is substantially the same? If you are found guilty of incitement to not in circumstances where you are not prepared to accept Her Majesty the Queen, you are virtually—[Interruption.] I am addressing my hon. and gallant Friend. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr) must control himself. It would assist the debate if hon. Members were allowed to make their own speeches—
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
My intervention was brief until I was interrupted. Are not the facts here that my hon. and gallant Friend is suggesting that someone guilty of sedition or felony could not take the oath?
§ Captain Orr
I think my hon. Friend is right, but I suggest that it would be easier if I were to make my own speech 963 and not have many interruptions. I was dealing with what I thought a preliminary point in dealing with the particular case of the hon. Lady and I wanted to come to the substance of what I want to say on the Motion.
One of the very ancient privileges of this House, which is almost as old as Parliament itself, is freedom from arrest. It is one of our most ancient privileges which you, Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of every Parliament lay claim to on our behalf. But there have always been very important exceptions. Even from the earliest times there have been exceptions to the ancient privilege of freedom from arrest. They are found, for example, in Lark's case in 1429. Freedom from arrest was claimed except for treason, felony and breach of the peace. In the case which the hon. Member for Paddington, North probably knows well, Thorpe's case, the judges made precisely the same exception. The Resolution of the House of Commons of 1675 said thatby the laws and usage of Parliament privilege of Parliament belongs to every Member of the House of Commons in all cases except treason, felony or breach of the peace.It was not until 1831 that by the laws and usage of Parliament privilege was extended to exclude all indictable offences, but there has always been the distinction in the mind of Parliament, related in this case to the question of freedom from arrest, but also related to the other subject of expulsion, about certain offences against the law.
The House of Commons has always from the earliest days set its face against those of its Members who break the law. After all, Parliament is supposed to uphold the law which Parliament itself makes. Parliament has always felt it necessary to say that those of its Members who break the law—particularly those who break the law in these three areas of treason, felony or breach of the peace—should not continue to be Members.
It is therefore right that the Committee of Privileges should consider not only the questions raised by the hon. Member for Paddington, North, though I think it is proper that Parliament should consider those, but also the whole question of how it behaves towards one of its Members who is convicted of a serious crime.
964 Up to very recent times Members of Parliament who were convicted of felony were automatically expelled from the House. I remember, as many hon. Members here will remember, the case of Mr. Peter Baker who was convicted of forgery and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. There was no question about it at any time but that the Leader of the House would rise and move that he be expelled from the House. He was. [Interruption.] It is said that that case is a bit different. I am not arguing about the particular case of the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There is one privilege that I thought we were all agreed about and that is the right of a Member to take part in a debate freely.
§ Mr. Rose
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise that there is a very special point in this case with which he has not dealt and which is the crux of the issue. Here we are dealing with a subordinate Parliament which itself has laws some of which are regarded as abhorrent in this Parliament. Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman relate this to the specific case where a Member may be guilty of a violation of a law passed not by this Parliament but by another Parliament in another part of the United Kingdom?
§ Captain Orr
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the law of the Parliament of Northern Ireland has the sanction of this House.
§ Captain Orr
It rests upon an Act passed by this House. I suggest that that is a diversion from what I have been saying. I have been discussing the rights of the House of Commons. One of the fundamental rights of the House of Commons is to have some say in whom it shall have as its Members. This House of Commons has always said from early times that it should not lightly regard any of its Members who break the law, and a distinction has always been made. The old distinction was between felony and misdemeanour. As the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale knows, this gave rise—
§ Captain Orr
Long before that case. I was thinking of John Winston Bradlaugh. That case gave rise to immense difficulties. I profoundly hope that had I been in the House in the days of Bradlaugh I would have been on the side of Bradlaugh rather than Cardinal Manning. I think that the House of Commons then made itself look ridiculous, and I agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that we do not want to make ourselves look ridiculous over this case, or any case which may arise afterwards.
But there is another way in which the House of Commons could make itself look equally ridiculous. It would do that if it totally ignored the crime, whatever it might be, of which one of its Members was convicted; if it said that the House of Commons itself is going to take no account of it; that all it is going to be concerned about are the actual rights of the Member who has been convicted of an offence, or the rights of the constituents, but it is not going to consider at all the gravity of the crime which has been committed, or the fitness of the Member to remain in the House of Commons, or the rights of the community as a whole, because the maintenance of law is one of the fundamental rights of the community as a whole.
§ Captain Orr
The House of Commons has the power to expel an hon. Member. The trouble over Bradlaugh was that when the Member was expelled the constituency re-elected him and the House of Commons made itself look ridiculous by refusing then to admit the Member. What I should like the Committee of Privileges to look at—its terms of reference are sufficient for this purpose—is whether the proper course for the House of Commons to take in the future is that the Committee of Privileges should decide and recommend to us what categories of criminal offences the House considers sufficient to take serious notice of. There is obviously a distinction to 966 be drawn between a parking offence and homicide.
The House of Commons having decided that, it ought then to decide—and this one I would like the Committee of consider—what is going to happen to a Member whose crime falls within the serious category. What I suggest the Committee of Privileges might well find is that in future anyone who commits a crime in the serious category should be subject to a Motion for expulsion.
§ Captain Orr
After that the constituency itself should have the right, in the light of the knowledge of the opinion of the House of Commons, and in the light of the knowledge of the crime, to re-elect the Member if it wished, following which the House of Commons, having expressed its view, would bow to the wishes of the constituency.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. Interventions prolong speeches.
§ Mr Orme
I understand that, Mr. Speaker, but we are likely to be here for a considerable time anyway. To English Members the hon. and gallant Gentleman's suggestion is reasonable, but he ought to put this in the context of Northern Ireland politics and what has happened to the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). It is about that, and the manner in which the courts have acted, that we are concerned.
§ Captain Orr
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman does himself or his cause any justice by attacking the courts in Northern Ireland or anywhere else.
§ Captain Orr
Now the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Northern Ireland courts are corrupt. I am not prepared to debate that. We are talking about something which is serious, and I suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite that they do not do their cause any good by making party political comments about the courts in Northern Ireland or the state of the law in Northern Ireland. It is the law of this kingdom.
§ Captain Orr
It is the law of this kingdom, derived from the authority of an Act of Parliament passed by this House. If we say in the House of Commons that we will not uphold that law, it is a poor day indeed for the future of law and order in this country.
I have spoken about what I think are the rights of the House of Commons. I would go a very long way with the hon. Gentleman in saying that the Committee of Privileges ought to look at what may or may not be the rights of Members who may be in prison, not subject to expulsion. There are difficulties. The hon. Gentleman read out a description of the conditions under which the hon. Lady at present in prison is permitted to carry out certain duties as a Member of Parliament. I wonder whether he had fully appreciated that what has happened has been an act of an executive Government. It may not be sufficient, he would wish them to go further, but it is an act of an executive Government. It is not a privilege which has been claimed by Parliament.
Parliament has never in the past claimed a privilege for any of its Members who were in prison. Parliament could not claim such a privilege because we in the House are debarred from extending Parliamentary privilege. In effect, what hon. Members opposite are asking is that the privileges of Parliament, which Parliament cannot extend, ought to be extended by act of the Executive. I doubt that the Committee of Privileges would be prepared to recommend that Parliament should claim an extension of its privileges.
§ Mr. Latham
I shall be brief, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman has provoked me to intervene on two points. First, I point out that the facilities given to the hon. Lady in the first instance are said to be those which would be given to any businessman in winding up his affairs. So there has been no special claim there. Second, on the question of procedure and the opportunity for the electors to express a view, the conviction took place during the last Parliament, and there was subsequently the General Election, at which 37,000 people returned the hon. Lady as Member for Mid-Ulster, on a 90 per cent. poll in the constituency. 968 Is not that of some significance on the question of representing her constituents?
§ Captain Orr
On the latter point, I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can square what he has just said with the phrase he used about constituents being deprived, through no fault of their own, of the service of their Member of Parliament. The constituents of the hon. Lady in Mid-Ulster would have known very well that this could well have been a possibility. What I am saying—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The purpose of the debate is to take the views of the House. Interruptions prolong speeches.
§ Captain Orr
At the time of the election, it is true, the hon. Lady had been convicted. An appeal was pending. The appeal was not decided until after the election. I am not making a judgment as to whether the crime of which she was convicted was necessarily of the gravity which would have demanded expulsion. But let us suppose that it was. What I suggest is that the House of Commons might have used its power of expulsion, there might then have been a by-election, and the constituents, in full light of the knowledge that the hon. Lady had been convicted of a serious crime, would then have been able to make up their mind, after which, I suggest, it would be consonant with the dignity of the House of Commons then to admit her if elected That is all I am suggesting.
I have forgotten the hon. Gentleman's first point. At any rate, I was simply going to tell him that I went a long way with him in common humanity, in feeling for constituents, in believing that in the cases where a Member is incarcerated on a charge which the House did not think sufficient to warrant expulsion arrangements might well be made for business to be carried out. What I said was that the House cannot extend its privileges. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the hon. Lady was receiving no more privileges than a businessman might to carry out his business. But if he looks at the document again he will see that the Ministry of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland has created a special category, allowing a privilege to a Member of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman asked that it should be extended further, that 969 the person should be permitted to come to take the oath. A similar privilege would not be given to others. A businessman would not be given the privileges of being taken to attend a place of business, although he might be given the facilities to conduct it through visits or anything else. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that we shall have no more interruptions. We want to hear the views of many hon. Members.
§ Captain Orr
I want to finish. I have taken a long time, but I have been interrupted an awful lot.
I do not necessarily dissent from the hon. Gentleman. All I am saying is that the Committee of Privileges should look at the question of whether the House of Commons itself has power to extend its privileges or whether we should ask the Executive, either in Northern Ireland or here, to give a privilege to Members of Parliament which would not be open to members of the public. I think that it would be wrong so to do. But I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. Although the Motion appears to me to be slightly defective in wording, I believe that it is possible for the Committee of Privileges to consider the position of Parliament and the rights of Members, and, therefore, I for one will support it.
§ 3.39 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
Perhaps I may start by getting the House to agree on a more passive note. I think that we all agree that the Leader of the House has shown particular care for the House and Members in the manner in which he has dealt with this subject. He has not only been a House of Commons man but has really looked after the interests of the House in the matter. My hon. Friends have nothing but the utmost praise for him.
Equally, I think that even those that jeered and sneered at the beginning will, on reflection, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham), whether or not they agree with what he said and the many times he said it. He has certainly been persistent and consistent in putting forward the views that he honestly and sincerely holds. That he has perhaps appeared to some to be somewhat boring in fact proves how 970 successful he has been, because it is the man who is continuously pressing something that he believes that is accused of being the bore by those that are not with him.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I can speak only for myself, but it may be that I speak also for my hon. Friends. It was not a matter of what the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham) said and least of all any derogation of the importance of the subject, his right to say it and the rest of it. It was the manner in which he did it. It was a little pharisaical and sanctimonious, we thought.
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Member is entitled to his view. All I am saying is that, as Mr. Speaker said, hon. Members ought not to sit and jeer and sneer because they do not agree with what is said. They ought not to have carped at what was said by a new Member, as they did. I leave it there and come to more controversial comments about the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr).
This is a general Motion with particular reference to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). The hon. and gallant Member spoke about Parliament, its power and its privilege. An hon. Member may go to Spain or Moscow and there fight for freedom and democracy, as recently happened in Czechoslovakia, and anyone here would regard that as right—it might be East Berlin. There might be a fracas and a few stones might be thrown and even, allegedly, a fire bomb. Far from being criticised, such an hon. Member would be regarded as a patriot and as standing up for freedom and democracy. But under the so-called law of those countries, such a Member could be arrested and imprisoned for throwing stones and bombs. No doubt the House of Commons would then be up in arms demanding that the Foreign Secretary should get that Member out of prison.
That is the analogy which many of my hon. Friends are drawing, because they have no confidence in the Northern Ireland Government and they do not regard it as an honest decent Administration. Many hon. Members have nothing but contempt for the Northern Ireland Administration.
§ Mr. Michael Fidler (Bury and Radcliffe)
Is not the hon. Member ignoring that Northern Ireland law has the sanction of this Parliament whereas in Russia and Spain the law does not have the sanction of a parliament?
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
The hon. Gentleman is not the first person in the debate to attack bitterly the foundation of the Northern Ireland judicial system. Is he not aware that the Court of Appeal judge who heard this case is the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, who was a Law Lord of this Parliament before becoming Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland? The hon. Member is therefore criticising the legal system of this country.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying a little from the terms of the Motion. If he would be so good as to relate his remarks to the terms of the Motion he will be in order.
§ Mr. Lewis
I was only following the points raised by hon. Members opposite, but I will leave it there.
Everyone knows that if a person is put into prison, for whatever reason, there is an automatic feeling that he must be bad, or that there must be something against him, or he would not be in 972 prison. We had this in the House in relation to a very honourable Member. I refer to the case of Mr. Will Owen, the former Member for Morpeth. He may have been silly and stupid but under the law he has been exonerated, so he must be innocent.
Here is a case even more shocking than the Mid-Ulster case. I tried hard to raise it here but could not because the law of sub judice was invoked on every possible occasion. Here was an hon. Member who had nothing against him at any time during his life, not one black mark. The then Government conveniently did their dirty work during the recess because they knew that the House could not query it. The then Attorney-General claimed that he had enough evidence to warrant the arrest of an hon. Member. What happened? He was arrested, put in jail for two months, without trial and there was not a murmur in this House.
I tried to raise it a dozen times. Eventually, I got it past the Table, in one of those cleverly-worded Motions that do not say anything about the hon. Member. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) was the only Member who signed it with me, and I thank him for it.
The hon. Member in question was put in prison and kept under arrest for two months without trial. He was suffering from failing eyesight. He had heart trouble. Then, after long drawn out proceedings which the legal profession is noted for—talk about productivity; the legal profession should get going on that—he was taken to court and was found completely innocent. During the whole of this time he was not allowed to contact hon. Members. He was not allowed to do his correspondence. He had taken the oath. From that day to this there has been no apology. There has never been any question of the House saying that it had done that man wrong. Whatever people may think, he is an innocent man. He was very shabbily treated by his comrades in the House.
If that could happen to one man, it could happen to another. Certain Members are liked and others are disliked. Those who like to have a go on unpopular things can be marked. I should not like to think that, because I had upset someone, I could be arrested and 973 kept in prison for two months without trial, have all the worry of that and then find that I have to resign my seat. When mud is thrown, some of it will stick. I should not like to have a slur on me for the rest of my life.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
Would the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that what he is saying has absolutely no relevance to the question of the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) since the person the hon. Gentleman is talking about had resigned his seat. If the hon. Lady were to resign her seat, that would make the comparison proper.
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. When this person was arrested and put in gaol he had not resigned his seat; he was a Member of Parliament. When pressure was put on him he resigned his seat, but that was after the damage had been done, after the knife had been stuck in and had been turned and salt rubbed in the wound. Then, I agree, he gave up. Perhaps, in those circumstances, the hon. Gentleman would have given up.
§ Mr. Iremonger
What my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) said might or might not be right, but there was a precisely parallel case which cuts across what the hon. Gentleman says. An hon. and learned Member, having been arrested, was in prison for many months before he was tried. It would be very difficult if hon. Members were to be exempt from being kept in custody.
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Member misses the point. It could happen as a result of suspicion during a recess. It could happen at any time. There are a hundred and one ways of doing it. I suggest that it was the same with the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster. The Westminster Government and the Government of Northern Ireland could have arranged for the hon. Lady to come here to take the oath. If she came here and took the oath, if she then decided not to go back but to stay in the precincts here, she might well be covered by privilege with the result that she did not go back. For this reason, it might be said to be as well not to give her the chance to come.
974 I can quote a somewhat similar case. For two years I put a number of Questions to the President of the Board of Trade asking him to take action in what I termed the Bloom fiasco. The Board of Trade dodged it but eventually took action. This is another case which the Committee of Privileges might consider, first concerning the shocking delay on the part of the law and the legal profession, and the terrific waste of money in so-called legal fees.
Eventually, the Bloom case went on. It involved another good Member of the House—he was not of my party, although the other one was. Richard Reader Harris was not arrested but he was kept "on ice" for two years. He could not carry out his parliamentary duties properly. He was not able to put Questions. Technically, I suppose, he could have done, but he was tipped off privately and kindly—I am not saying unkindly—by being told, "The best plan, you know, Mr. Reader Harris, is not to come in too often. Do not put Questions De not take part in debate." For almost two years that man was virtually barred from coming here and his constituents were disfranchised. Not a thing was done about it.
Again, I tried to put Questions and ask why the committal proceedings took so long. My legal friends, on both sides of the House, said that there was nothing in the case and it should not have proceeded further. Nevertheless, it went on and on. After two years he, too, was found not guilty. In the meantime, the poor devil had not only had all the mud, slosh and all that against him, but he lost his seat into the bargain and he is probably now in the position of never being able to get another. This, too, should be looked at.
If an hon. Member takes an active part against the Executive and their representatives, the machine or the Establishment, they get to dislike the hon. Member, and the hon. Member may one day make a slip. They say, "We will get him. We will have him." I know that this is the case. There are certain hon. Members who are on the marked list, and whenever they are in trouble, they will really be in trouble. There are other hon. Members who are not reckoned to be the awkard ones. They, of course, are not on the black list and they are all 975 right. It might well be that the Committee of Privileges should look at that sort of matter, because we owe a debt to Richard Reader Harris. I think the House should try to do something about it.
My last word is that if we looked at these three cases—and I think each is worth looking at—and tried to deal with them fairly, we should have done a good job for House of Commons and a good job for democracy.
§ 4.0 a.m.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
When I first saw this Motion on the Order Paper I had some grave doubts about its real value, and I confess that as this debate has proceeded nothing has happened to make me feel any more relaxed about the wisdom of discussing this subject at this time, because I really do wonder what is the merit of drawing ground rules, which is what we are seeking to do, for circumstances which might arise should Members of this House be detained in prison. Surely one of the great things about this House is that it does not tend to reach its decisions on bases of hypothesis, but surely that is, basically, what we are being asked to do here this night. I agree that at the back of everybody's mind there is a particular case, a particular person, yes; but that is not what is set down here in the Motion. We are seeking to lay out wider grounds, and I have very considerable anxiety on that point.
Of course one acknowledges that it is undesirable that the electorate of a constituency should be disfranchised. We all accept this. But are we really not in grave danger of setting up for ourselves the very machinery—I suppose that is the word—which we here condemn when it is set up anywhere else? I mean simply this, that the House of Commons has a great knack, a great habit, of reaching its highest point when it is discussing itself, or, alternatively, perhaps plummeting to its lowest depths. I cannot help feeling that we are in danger of doing it on this sort of Motion, because we are seeking, whether consciously or not—indeed, probably quite unwittingly—to put ourselves in a position which could give the general public cause to accuse us of seeking a privileged position for our Members. It is a terrible danger. 976 It is not what we here think that really matters: it is the impression on the general public outside of what we are doing.
Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—if I may paraphrase him, and I hope I paraphrase aright—made it quite clear that the Executive had no standing in the case of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin), and everyone agreed that that was right and how it should be, and that non-interference by the Executive with the machinery of the Legislature is one of the pillars of British democracy. But there is another pillar of British democracy, and that is the Judiciary, and noninterference with that, but that is something which has tended to creep into our discussions today. Some, in my view, disgraceful smears have been made against the Judiciary of Northern Ireland. O.K.—the law may be slightly different in certain respects, but if I were to go up Whitehall, or anywhere else in England, and throw stones or petrol bombs I should be charged, and rightly so, with a criminal offence and be imprisoned if I were found guilty of the charge. We are not talking here about minor differences which may exist between the law in Northern Ireland and the law in this country. We are talking about common offences and criminal offences which would be treated in exactly the same way in any part of the United Kingdom.
During the recent General Election the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, whose views and political aspirations I cannot be said to share, by her own actions precluded herself from attending this House. Nobody has done this for her, and during her election campaign she was frequently reported as making light of the possibility that she would go to gaol shortly after the election, win or lose. The House is working itself into a great lather about something which the person concerned has not expressed such anxieties about—
§ Mr. Rose
Many hon. Members are concerned about a general principle, irrespective of the hon. Member involved. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that an hon. Member representing an English constituency could be imprisoned in Northern Ireland and be subject to the 977 Northern Ireland Home Secretary? The British Home Secretary would have no jurisdiction, and the Member of Parliament would be imprisoned in a foreign country within the boundary of the United Kingdom. This is the basic principle which this case has brought to light.
§ Mr. Pounder
I do not accept the point made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose). Nevertheless, there is another point in his argument. If at some future date any Member of Parliament gets into certain difficulties—and this is the basis of my criticism of the Motion—there is great danger in working out an answer on the basis of hypothetical situations. The chances of a similar case arising to the one occupying our thoughts tonight are remote. I have always thought that one of the features of the Committee of Privileges was that it took cases as they arose and did not draw up blanket regulations.
It is of fundamental importance to realise that when a person is sentenced for a criminal offence the rules must be exactly the same whether or not he be a Member of Parliament. Under no circumstances must we even contemplate action, let alone take action, on the concept that a Member of Parliament is in a special category.
I conclude with the words of the Belfast Telegraph leading article on the evening of 22nd July:The case of Miss Bernadette Devlin is unique and so it is not surprising that it is creating such difficulties. Much of the fuss is being manufactured for political purposes.
§ 4.8 a.m.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
I hope that the whole House will applaud the generous initiative taken by the Leader of the House in promoting this Motion, in his own words, for the protection of minorities and even a minority of one in this House, and I add to that, irrespective of what any of us may feel about the actions or the character of the hon. Lady who happens to be the source of the initiative. For that reason I regret all the more the way in which that generous initiative has been followed up, particularly by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and perhaps to an unnecessary extent by 978 the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder), who totally misses the point in saying that the public will think that we are seeking to create extra privileges for our own Members. That is not the position.
I had the privilege of being Chairman of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege which recommended that many of our privileges should be curtailed and qualified, but the one thing that Committee was quite clear about was that it was essential that those privileges of Members of Parliament which are necessary to enable them to perform their functions as such should be preserved. This is the real dilemma which we are in and which the Committee of Privileges is being asked to consider. It arises as a result of an hon. Member being punished according to the law and, at the same time, the right of that hon. Member's constituents to be represented here in Parliament as well as it is possible for them to be represented in those circumstances. That is the dilemma which has to be resolved, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for taking that initiative.
A great many difficulties have to be surmounted, and I pointed to a number of them when I raised a point of order in this House. I drew attention to the fact that Erskine May says that an hon. Member who has not taken the oath is nonetheless entitled to a great many of the privileges of Members of this House.
I hope that the Leader of the House will forgive me if I make one or two criticisms of his Motion. I hope that I do so in a constructive spirit because, in a sense, this is a precedent for what we might have to consider as a House on future occasions.
My first criticism relates to the terms of reference and the point that I have just made. As I see it, the difficulty which has arisen in this case is twofold. First, the hon. Member is in prison. As we have heard, that has happened on other occasions One hopes that it will not happen often to hon. Members, but obviously it is not unique. The other difficulty, to which the Motion does not refer, is that, because of the unique circumstances of the case, the hon. Member has been unable to take the oath. I still have hopes, even at this late hour, 979 that we may see the hon. Member at the Bar of the House before we rise for the Summer Recess and that, in her case, that difficulty may be resolved. I still have some faith in the generosity of the Northern Ireland Government. But that remains to be seen.
Whether that happens or not, the fact remains that the situation could occur again, not merely because an hon. Member is in prison but for some quite different reason. A serious illness might keep an hon. Member confined to his bed, perhaps for a long time, during which he is perfectly capable of carrying out all the duties of a Member of Parliament except that of attendance at the House. That is a situation which is analogous to that of the hon. Lady, and it is one which I hope that the Select Committee will feel itself able to consider, even though it is not within its precise terms of reference.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. and learned Gentleman is more expert in these matters than I, but I think that he will agree that, as the Motion is drawn, the rights of an hon. Member who is in prison and who has not taken the oath are covered. It talks about the rights of any hon. Memberwho may be detained in one of Her Majesty's Prisons …".However, when the hon. and learned Gentleman refers to the wider point about taking the oath in general, that is a separate matter. I would not rule out the possibility that at some future stage the whole question of taking the oath might be referred to the Committee of Privileges, but the issue with which we are concerned tonight is not quite that.
§ Mr. Silkin
I was not pursuing quite that point. I doubt whether we ought to spend time on the point about taking the oath here. What I am saying is that, according to Erskine May and according to the Ruling which Mr. Speaker gave the other day, there are certain disabilities which flow from not having been able to take the oath. I hope the Select Committee will be able to consider whether those disabilities should continue to the full or whether a limit should be imposed on them by the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866.
Having dealt with the terms of reference, I should like to say a word or two 980 about the body to which this matter is referred: the Committee of Privileges. I have certain doubts and reservations about that. The Committee is a body whose normal duties are to consider specific allegations of contempt or breach of privilege. It deals with specific matters, whereas here it is being asked to deal with a general question.
In the past, as far as I have understood, general questions of this kind have been referred to an ad hoc Committee as on the Official Secrets Act and on Parliamentary Privilege, which is the closest analogy to this case that one could find.
There are good reasons for that. The Committee consists of extremely busy and important hon. Members of the House and may at any time be called on to deal with a specific case of alleged breach of privilege. One wonders what would happen, because these cases are sometimes urgent and sometimes take a long time, as one did last Session.
Suppose a case were to come up in October or early November. It might mean that this matter would have to be deferred for a long time while the Committee was dealing with the specific case.
A further point which concerns me is that the Committee of Privileges bases its decisions on precedent, whereas what is desired in this case is not a decision on what the precedents are but rather a decision on what the position ought to be in future. This is a matter which can be much better attended to by an ad hoc Committee such as the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.
There is a further matter which hon. Members may possibly think not so important, but which I hope is not entirely fanciful. Members of the Committee of Privileges are people of great experience and authority in this House. They are weighty people, what I call Establishment people, and although we are dealing here with a general question, it springs from what has happened to, I think, the youngest of our hon. Members, a young student who has been held to have been convicted of an offence, but who, none the less, is a person who belongs to a particular group of people who will not be necessarily persuaded of the wisdom of the decisions of a body of Establishment figures. I would have liked to see some hon. Members who could not be 981 regarded as Establishment figures on this Select Committee, possibly my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), if he has not joined the Establishment.
§ Mr. Silkin
If not my hon. Friend, there are several others of whom hon. Members could think. I think that a body more representative of the whole spectrum of this House would carry more authority with the general public over this matter than a body like the Committee of Privileges.
These are matters which I realise will not be affected by the remarks that I have made. It is clear that the Motion will go through. At least, I hope that it will. It is clear that the right hon. Gentleman took the course which was likely to produce the greatest expedition. I do not blame him for that. However, I hope that the criticisms that I have made will be considered for the future and that, whatever may be the result of this important inquiry, on future occasions, should matters of this kind have to be considered, the Leader of the House will consider a different body more appropriate to be called upon to make the inquiry.
§ 4.21 a.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) said that he thought that the Motion would be accepted by the House. I am afraid that he is right. I wish that he were not. I am opposed to the Motion, and I hope that the House will bear with me while I explain why I do not think that the problem which the Motion is designed to meet—and it is a real problem—is a matter of privilege at all.
It is totally misconceived to refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges. The Leader of the House said that there were matters to be clarified and that there were areas of doubt. I think that there is no doubt whatsoever. I am surprised that so many right hon. and hon. Members find any doubt in the matter. It is perfectly clear. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain On), with great precision and authority, told us exactly what was clear—namely, that hon. Members are not 982 protected from the criminal law by the privilege of Parliament. It must therefore follow, as the night the day, that they are not protected from the consequences of breaches of the law by the privilege of Parliament.
The only effect of referring this question to the Committe of Privileges is to delay a decision, and delay in the case of Miss Devlin makes the whole process fatuous. I hope that the House will forgive me if I refer to the Lady as Miss Devlin. I do not think that, although elected, she is an hon. Member of this House, because she has not taken the oath. I submit that this matter is not one of privilege for the House; it is a matter of Government policy. It is most certainly a matter for the House, because it is a matter in which the House should instruct the Government—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
On the point about the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) not being the Member for Mid-Ulster, I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Surely once a Member is elected, he or she is the Member until such time as he or she applies for the Chiltern Hundreds or until such time as there is an election. Indeed, he or she does not have to attend the House in the whole period or take the oath. Therefore, the hon. Lady is still the Member for Mid-Ulster until she applies for the Chiltern Hundreds or until there is an election.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that I had better give a ruling on this matter. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) in indeed the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The House is grateful for that Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and it would be wrong for me to debate the matter. We are also grateful to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) for raising the issue.
I was saying that this is not a matter of privilege but a matter of Government policy, of Executive action. That policy and action should flow from the direction of this House. The issue is complicated in this case by the fact that the hon. Lady is in prison in Ulster and not in a prison which is subject to the direct jurisdiction of the Home Secretary. If the latter were the case—or, in Scotland, where she would be subject to the direct 983 jurisdiction of the Secretary of State for Scotland—the matter would be comparatively simple.
I suggest that anybody in such a position could be dealt with in a way that I shall describe. If an hon. Member is in a prison and is subject to a Minister who is answerable in this House, that hon. Member should be allowed—under the present rules which allow prisoners to get married, attend a grand-mother's funeral and so on—to come to this House to take the oath. It would then be for the House to consider, if it wished, whether or not to debate a motion to expel that hon. Member, following which he or she would be either expelled or not expelled.
§ Mr. Iremonger
There is nothing to stop such a Motion being moved—[Interruption.]—and I would do so.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I do not know whether such a Motion would be accepted by the Table. I do not believe that it would be in the case of an hon. Member who had not yet taken the oath.
Leaving that aside, it would be accepted if such an hon. Member had taken the oath, in which case a motion could be moved, and it would be up to hon. Members either to accept or to reject it. If the hon. Member were expelled, no problem would arise by virtue of his or her being in prison. If the hon. Member were not expelled, it would then seem a matter of simple administration for the Home Secretary to ensure that arrangements were made which were suitable in the interests of the House and the hon. Member's constituents.
In the case of Ulster—or, for that matter, the Isle of Man—it would seem that the appropriate course would be for the Government, not through a motion being referred to the Committee of Privileges, to have legislation saying, in effect, that, whether or not he or she had taken the oath, once an hon. Members was elected to this House, he or she should be transferred to a prison subject to the jurisdiction of the Home Secretary.
It would be wise for the Northern Ireland Government, although this might 984 not make them popular with many of their supporters, to be a little generous in this matter and bring Miss Devlin here to be sworn. Then it would be for this House to decide whether or not to expel her. I hope that when she has taken the oath a Motion will be moved for her expulsion. There will no doubt be arguments for and against such a Motion, but let the matter be argued openly in this House. It will then be for the electors of Mid-Ulster to decide whom they wish to represent them. It seems that a lot of bother has been made about this, and, with respect to the Leader of the House, I, and I alone, think him mistaken.
§ 4.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)
The whole House owes a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham) for raising a particularly important constitutional issue and the Leader of the House has displayed a great deal of generosity and patience on this matter.
I cannot say the same of the Home Secretary, whose persistent absence from the whole of our deliberations on this matter is remarkable in view of the fact that the Home Office was so deeply implicated. I am sorry that the Home Secretary has not seen fit to be here on this occasion. One vital constitutional issue has to be dealt with. It arises from this case, but it has a general application.
It so happens that one of the privileges which hon. Members may have to seek in reference to a period of imprisonment is the place in which they serve that imprisonment. The peculiar factor about this case is that the place of imprisonment is in a particular part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland. Therefore, decision on the amenities allowed to the hon. Member involved are not made by this Parliament and not under the rules laid down by this Parliament or this Home Office, but by the Home Office of another Parliament, Stormont.
This Parliament, unfortunately it would seem, is given no right in regard to the rights of that hon. Member. It seems important that when the Committee of Privileges deals with this problem it should say specifically that this Parliament will decide the code of conduct in regard to persons in prison which will apply whether they are imprisoned in 985 this part of the United Kingdom or in that part which for the time being is known as Northern Ireland.
The problem we face in this House because of a peculiar convention—a convention which I submit is not above the rule of law and is challengeable—is that in this House we are not able to ask Questions of the Home Secretary concerning conditions of a person imprisoned in Northern Ireland. As I said when the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) was speaking, this may happen to a Member who is not a Northern Ireland Member. It may happen that the Leader of the House is on holiday in Northern Ireland and finds himself arrested for a driving offence and in prison in Northern Ireland.
Perhaps the Leader of the House will listen while I describe the predicament in which he could find himself. He would be in a prison in Northern Ireland, and I would not be able to ask Questions of the Home Secretary with a view to extricating him from that predicament, because he would be under the jurisdiction of an entirely different authority. He would be in exactly the same position as if he were imprisoned in Italy, France or some other country where he had gone for a holiday.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
Is that actually so? Is it not the case that the rules governing the treatment of prisoners in prisons of Northern Ireland are modelled on rules obtaining in Britain and that they are practically identical?
§ Mr. Rose
—he would have heard the rules laid down specifically on this case and applicable to this case. Those rules were laid down not in Westminster but by the authorities in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Member found himself in this difficulty of being imprisoned in Northern Ireland, he would find that the rules, whether modelled on other rules or not, were under the jurisdiction not of the Home Secretary here but of the Home Secretary in Northern Ireland. His hon. Friends and hon. Members on this side 986 who were concerned about his welfare, as we all would be, would be placed in the intolerable situation that we could not inquire in the House about the position of one of our honourable colleagues imprisoned in a part of the United Kingdom. This is the intolerable dilemma with which we are faced because of this case, which has brought to light this constitutional anomaly that to all intents and purposes someone imprisoned in Northern Ireland, even from an English, a Welsh or a Scottish constituency, would be subject to that jurisdiction and would be as outside the law as regards questioning in this Parliament as somebody imprisoned in a foreign country.
The contrary applies. If a Northern Ireland Member were sentenced and imprisoned in Britain—in the past Irishmen have been imprisoned in Britain—he would be subject to the jurisdiction of the Home Secretary. It is ridiculous and anomalous that there are two separate sets of justice according to whether a person is imprisoned in Northern Ireland or in this part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way a second time. I have been here throughout the whole debate and have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham). As I understand it, the rules laid down for the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin), to which the hon. Member for Paddington, North has referred, are the British rules for cases of this kind which have been made more liberal for the benefit of the hon. Lady.
§ Mr. Rose
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North is here, but, as I understand it, initially the hon. Lady was not permitted to carry out the constituency engagements which she was elected to carry out. It was only after a certain intervention—we are grateful to my hon. Friend for this—and pressures which were brought to bear on the Home Secretary and pressure which in turn the Home Secretary brought to bear upon the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland that more generous treatment of the hon. Lady was allowed by the Northern Ireland authorities.
The whole point of establishing a committee to deal with the matter is to lay down a standard code of conduct with 987 regard to Members who are in this situation. The constitutional anomaly here is vitally important. This is what arises from this case. Because of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, which delegated responsibility in home affairs to the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland, we are faced with an intolerable situation which cannot be allowed to continue. This convention died a long time ago. In debate after debate under Standing Order No. 9 we have ranged over the whole field of Northern Ireland affairs. We have discussed in detail matters which have been delegated under the 1920 Act. I should have thought that the House now had the power to inquire into what went on in Northern Ireland.
However, suddenly we find that we are back into the position of five years ago and we have to accept a Ruling by Mr. Speaker of a week or two ago, under which it is once again impossible for us to seek information about matters under the jurisdiction of subordinate Ministers in Northern Ireland where powers have been devolved upon them under the 1920 Act. This is intolerable.
§ Captain Orr
The hon. Gentleman is erecting a very great constitutional difficulty out of something which might be quite readily resolved. He is talking as if a person imprisoned in Northern Ireland would not have the possibility of transfer to a prison anywhere else within the United Kingdom. It is perfectly open to the hon. Lady to apply for a transfer, say, to Holloway.
§ Mr. Rose
I am most interested in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's suggestion, but what are the implications of it? To do that would make a mockery of the present situation. It would mean that there were two sets of jurisdiction in one country. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying that by making this application, which would have to be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Home Secretary, the hon. Lady could then place herself within the jurisdiction of the Home Secretary here, and then Questions could be asked here, if the Northern Ireland Home Secretary agreed. Surely that shows the inane, foolish and curious position with which we are faced? A person imprisoned under the laws of Northern Ireland, or any other part of the United Kingdom, can find himself under a completely 988 different jurisdiction according to the place at which he happens to be imprisoned at a particular time.
The situation shows that the convention which is being observed again, it seems, in this place is a convention which should not be observed. It is an outdated convention. It is a convention which has been overtaken by events. We have a situation where a large number of British troops are in Northern Ireland, where the Northern Ireland Government are incapable of keeping law and order without them, and where the Northern Ireland Government are incapable of governing that province without the direct subsidy and interference of and support from Westminster.
This case highlights that what must be looked at by the Committee of Privileges is the specific problem of the 1920 Act and the convention, and whether we are going to allow to continue a situation whereby if an hon. Member happens by accident to find himself imprisoned in Northern Ireland he cannot be under the jurisdiction of the Home Secretary here, and he cannot be protected by this House, because that is what has happened. Such a Member is removed from the protection of the House and of his colleagues. It could happen to any hon. Member from Northern Ireland, or indeed to any of us who visited that part of the United Kingdom for a holiday or for any other reason.
I submit that the Committee of Privileges must deal specifically with this problem of the convention and advise the House whether the convention, in so far as it applies to the Home Secretary's jurisdiction over prisons, should continue to apply. It should look specifically into what is clearly an anomaly in our system whereby a person convicted and imprisoned in a part of the United Kingdom is to all intents and purposes a foreigner as far as the House of Commons is concerned, the only difference being that instead of the Foreign Secretary having to inquire, the Home Secretary has to inquire about his or her condition.
§ 4.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
I do not wish to detain the House for long. I should like to deal briefly with one or two of the points raised by 989 the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose).
I hope that when this matter is referred to the Committee of Privileges the Committee will not waste its time considering what are and what are not the proper reserve powers of the Northern Ireland Government. The question to be referred to the Committee is a great deal wider than that which concerns the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin), and although a great deal of time during this debate and in the days leading up to it has been spent considering her case, much more fundamental matters than her rights are involved. The difficulty which Parliament is considering arises from the abolition of the ancient distinction between felonies and misdemeanours, and this is the matter which the Committee must consider.
In spite of what the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham) said, the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster has been convicted of a very serious offence, and I remind him that when I intervened in his speech earlier on I was not alleging that she had thrown petrol bombs. I was saying that she had been engaged in making petrol bombs. She herself admitted it, and photographs of her making petrol bombs appeared in a Dublin magazine.
A person who does that, and who incites fellow citizens to riot of a most vicious nature, is, I submit, not a proper person to be a Member of the House. Therefore, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), who feels that this person should be expelled from the House.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I would not have presumed to go further than to say that a Motion should be moved that she be expelled, and that it would be for the House to deal with it.
§ Mr. McMaster
I am sorry. I took it from the tenor of my hon. Friend's remarks that, if he did not say so, at least he implied that he was in favour of her being dealt with in that fashion. I would certainly go so far as to say that any person who has been convicted by a court of this country of a serious offence of that nature—not just a minor offence like a motoring offence or something of that order—is no longer a 990 suitable person to represent a constituency in this Parliament.
We have been listening to what has appeared to me to be something of a pantomime. Earlier today, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) suggested that Mr. Speaker should rule on whether the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster would be allowed to take the oath if she came to the House. It was implied by the hon. Gentleman, and said by his hon. Friends, that the decision on whether she could take the oath should decide whether the hon. Lady should be sent here. The hon. Gentleman has the whole thing upside down.
If the House wants convicted criminals to come here and take the oath, it is within its power to extend privilege to Members in that fashion, and a Resolution should be passed saying that all convicted Members who have not taken the oath should be brought to the Bar so that they may take the oath. Why do not hon. Members opposite make such a proposal if that is what they want?
The duty of the Home Secretary in this affair and of the prison governor is clear: it is to keep the person in prison until his or her sentence has been served. It is not their duty, irrespective of whether Mr. Speaker would allow such Members to take the oath, to bring them to the Bar of the House. Their duty is simply to keep them in prison until they have.
§ Mr. Latham
The point should be re-emphasised, if the hon. Gentleman has not got it yet, that the reason why there has been agitation in the House on the question of the taking of the oath is that the Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs, when he received a deputation on Monday last, shielded behind a message from the Home Office which purported to be an authorised ruling from this House that if the Member were to come she would not then be permitted to be sworn in. The pantomime has not occurred here. It has occurred at Stormont, where the Ministry has sought to make it appear as though it was not its responsibility but that the issue did not arise because, so it was claimed, there was no point in the hon. Member arriving here.
We have exposed that pantomime in the past week and put the onus and 991 responsibility where it lies. That is why the matter is being pursued, because of a deliberate attempt by the Minister of Home Affairs in Ulster to shield behind a piece of paper and deny his own responsibility.
§ Mr. McMaster
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman intervened, because his intervention helps me to put the record as straight as I can. The ruling was given early in July by the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland that the hon. Lady would not be brought across here to take the oath. This was the decision he gave then, and he has stuck to it since. This was long before any advice was sought from the Home Office.
I am well aware that the House is particularly concerned not so much with the hon. Lady or any other hon. Member who is in prison but with that person's constituents and their rights. But there are two well-established principles of English law of which the hon. Gentleman may be aware. One is summed up in the legal phrase, volenti non fit injuria. Perhaps even more apposite is the expression caveat emptor—"Let the buyer beware." The constituents of the hon. Lady knew very well on polling day that she had been convicted of a criminal offence. Her appeal had been heard and they only awaited the decision of the Court of Appeal. They must reasonably be assumed to have considered the possibility that she might be kept in prison, and, therefore, at least for six months be unable to represent them. To that extent, the case made tonight is not very sound.
§ 4.52 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I wish to join first in the expressions of gratitude to the Leader of the House. He was already universally respected in the House, and every week since the new Parliament assembled he has added to his reputation. In deciding that we should have this Motion tonight he has eased a situation which would otherwise have been much more explosive. I do not say that there have not been any explosions in any case, but they would have been much more violent if he had not had the wisdom to suggest that there would be a Motion of this character 992 under which we could debate the case of the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) as well as putting it in its proper context. So the House owes a great debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman. He is a good Minister in a naughty Administration. As we look across from this side, his candle glows amid the encircling gloom. We hope that it will be quite a time before he is permanently extinguished. I do not wish by any of those remarks to detract from the gratitude I express towards him.
It would also be extremely generous if some hon. Members opposite complimented my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham) on the way in which he has presented the issue to the House both today and on previous occasions. They have not done it so far, though the right hon. Gentleman has. The House of Commons always owes a great deal to Members of Parliament who show the diligence to inquire into matters which originally appear abstruse in order to bring information to the House which otherwise it would not have had. My hon. Friend has shown that he is already a formidable Member. Hon. Members opposite would be wise in their own interests to recognise that and not to resort to some of the sneers they attempted to use to put him off his stroke, fortunately without success. Therefore, we owe a debt to him, as well as to the Leader of the House, for this debate.
I should like to make one other preliminary comment about the debate before coming to some of the issues of substance which are involved. I have much sympathy with the point of view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) when he suggests that it might have been better to have had a Select Committee rather than the Committee of Privileges to deal with the subject. I believe that partly for the reasons which he has stated, but also because we shall underline, as he did, that in this debate we are not seeking in any sense to suggest that Members of Parliament should have privileges which are denied to members of the public. In the Committee on which I have sat under the chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich, we proposed changes in 993 the whole law of privilege affecting Parliament, changes would have the effect of putting Members of Parliament in many respects in the same position as other citizens of the land. We think that that would be a development in a proper direction.
Having sat on a Committee which may suggest recommendations such as that, we have some qualms about proposing that matters in this way should be referred to the Committee of Privileges, particularly when the privilege is in rather dubious circumstances. A Committee of the House has proposed that the whole nature of the Committee of Privileges should be altered, and for more than two years we have been seeking to get this recommendation carried into effect. While those recommendations are not carried into effect, it may be wrong to say that the Committee of Privileges itself is under suspicion, but it is a body whose status has not been accepted by hon. Members who inquired into it.
For that reason, it would have been better if this matter had been referred to the House rather than to the Committee of Privileges, particularly when, as the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said, it is one of the principles of privilege under which we operate that the House of Commons has no power to extend its privileges. It is a novel question that is being referred to the Committee of Privileges in the sense that it is being called upon not to judge any particular event which has occurred but to make recommendations of a more general character. This is a qualification of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.
However, I dare say that the right hon. Gentleman had good reason for thinking in these circumstances that this was the only way in which he could proceed. Therefore, it may be of advantage to any hon. Member who wishes to leave the Chamber if I say I am authorised to say that we do not propose to vote against the Motion. I hope that the stampede will not be of such a character as we saw a little earlier in the proceedings!
Having shown the sweet reasonableness which the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South properly attributed to 994 me as my natural characteristic, I propose to come to more controversial aspects of the matter. The Ruling by Mr. Speaker today was one of extreme importance. We wanted the Government to clarify the situation in precisely the way that several of us have been seeking to have it clarified ever since this question of the document became a matter of debate. The argument of some of us all along, that the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster should be permitted to come to the House, was nothing to do with the Rulings laid down by Mr. Speaker today.
We have contested this from the very beginning. Some of us have argued from the beginning that the question of whether the hon. Lady could come to the Bar of the House to have this question of her swearing in considered was entirely one in the decision of the Government of Northern Ireland, and our complaint against that Government, about which I will say something further in a moment, is that they were making the wrong decision about the matter. This issue was confused for quite a period because people said: "No, it depends on whether she would be able to be sworn if she ever got here." Much confusion prevailed on that. We have now clarified that.
We have now clarified it in exactly the sense that the right hon. Gentleman used in our discussions, that this was a matter entirely within the province of the Northern Ireland Government. It is for them to decide whether the hon. Lady should be permitted to come to this House. The right hon. Gentleman said so on Wednesday in clear terms, and it was his statement that was further confirmed, if that is the proper term, by Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Foot
That is a victory for those of us who have put this argument right from the beginning of proceedings. I am glad to have the acknowledgment of the right hon. Gentleman because the more he nods his head in acceptance of what I am saying the deeper is the mud into which he plunges the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Foot
The more the right hon. Gentleman says that I am confirmed by Mr. Speaker in saying that this is entirely a question to be decided by the Government of Northern Ireland, quite irrespective of the question of whether she would be sworn in here if she got here, the more he says that the greater is the difficulty that arises from the communications that were sent by the Home Secretary to the Government of Northern Ireland.
This is one aspect of the matter which must be probed by the Committee of Privileges: the question of the communications between the Home Secretary and the Government of Northern Ireland, particularly because it is the Home Secretary who is responsible for all discussions with the Northern Ireland Government on such matters. This matter is of paramount importance. The right hon. Gentleman insisted and won the sympathy of the House by saying that we cannot have the Executive interfering with the rights of Parliament, but that is exactly what the Home Secretary has done. All that has still to be established at this point is exactly the terms in which he did it. We want to know what was stated in the memorandum of 14th July—a strange day for him to send this anti-liberterian missive. What was included in the "Bastille Bulletin", signed by the Home Secretary, to the Government of Northern Ireland?
The Committee of Privileges will need to have this document before it. In my opinion this document should have been presented to the House. Certainly the letter sent prior to 21st July, which drew the response from the Clerk of the House, presumably with the authorisation of Mr. Speaker, must be presented to the Committee, as I submitted yesterday that the document should have been presented to the House. It is an extraordinary situation when, on this matter which has been discussed in the House on seven or eight occasions in the past three weeks, we should have had, during that period, exchanges between the Home Secretary and the Northern Ireland Government. It is only by accident that we have been able to discover what they may mean, and we have only had half of it. What is the use of the position where we have had the answer given by the Clerk of the House to an official of the Home 996 Office but we do not know the request made by the Home Office? What was the nature of the request?
All these matters will have to be investigated by the Committee of Privileges, and extremely interesting it will be. The Leader of the House must not think that this matter can be overlooked. He knows very well that a report of the Committee comes back to this House, and, being an extremely libertarian Leader of the House, he would not think for a moment of trying to prevent a debate on the report of his own Committee of Privileges.
Therefore, if the Committee of Privileges did not explore this matter fully and present all the documents, then when the matter came before us we would have to examine the conduct of the Home Secretary. Part of the scandal of this affair is that the Home Secretary has used his powers improperly to do exactly what the Leader of the House said no Government should do—that is, to pretend that they had standing in matters of this kind when they had not.
We accept to the full the doctrine stated by the Leader of the House, and the more we accept it, the stronger is the indictment against the Home Secretary. This is one aspect which we hope will be resolved, because never again following this case will a Home Secretary think that he has the power to interfere in these questions of Parliamentary Privilege.
I come to some of the other questions which the Committee of Privileges will have to consider. A Member of Parliament in prison can be required to attend this House. That was what happened in the case of Lord Cochrane, to which I referred in the House the other day—the precedent of 1815, which has been overlooked to some degree. On one occasion he was required to come from prison to attend this House, but on another occasion he came of his own skill and initiative. Both cases are apposite. His offence was supposed to be just as criminal as that alleged against the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster. So determined was the Parliament of those days to ensure that people who had been attacked or criticised should have the chance to defend themselves that even though he had arrived 997 here on the second occasion in circumstances which might be considered improper, the Speaker insisted that he should have the right to state his case to hon. Members. So that that case will have to be considered by the Committee of Privileges, too.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman finds the reference to this matter in the records of the House—either in the Journals or in the report of our proceedings of the time. Surely what happened when Lord Cochrane arrived here, having escaped from King's Bench Prison, was that he was immediately, or almost immediately, returned to the prison.
§ Mr. Foot
If the hon. Gentleman examines the facts, he will see that I am right. There were two occasions when Lord Cochrane came to the House, but on the second occasion he went to the Clerk's office to see if he could be sworn in there. That was not agreed, but the Speaker insisted—and there was no precedent; in those days Speakers believed that they could act even if there was no precedent; they acted in a commonsensical manner—that Lord Cochrane should have the right to present his case, which he did.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
If the hon. Gentleman says that he has found this information in the Journals of the House or in some authoritative history of the time, I will at once accept it; but I have not been able to find it.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman will find it in two or three of the biographies of Lords Cochrane and it was referred to in some of the records of the House. I do not think we should quarrel about it.
What is the position of a Member of this House in prison who is attacked in this House? The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South, who started his speech by saying that, of course—as an officer and a gentleman, no doubt—he would not attack the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster in her absence, proceeded to accuse her of perjury, treason and felonies of every kind. He then went on to suggest that what we should really be considering was whether the hon. Lady should be expelled from the House. The hon. Member for Belfast, 998 East (Mr. McMaster) said that the great question for us to consider is whether a person who has been convicted of such an offence as that of which the hon. Lady has been held to be guilty should ever be allowed to sit in the House of Commons.
Nobody who has listened to the speeches of Members from Northern Ireland on the Government side of the House today could by any stretch of the imagination suggest that they have carefully refrained from attacking the hon. Lady in any way. It is no attack, apparently, to accuse her of perjury. "Ah", they say—
§ Mr. Foot
I am coming to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark). I would not miss him out by any mischance or oversight. All of them, jumping up with the book in their hand. Said, "Ah, we are only quoting what she says in her own book." It is quite a habit in this House to attack people by quoting them. It has been done before. What I am saying is that, particularly on grave matters of this kind, an hon. Member who is attacked in that way has the right to defend himself. He should not be attacked unless he has that right.
The hon. Member for Londonderry has a special obligation in this matter. He has not merely been doing it in support of his hon. Friends here today. He did it on the first occasion, on the Friday, immediately after the first debate on Northern Ireland. He attacked the hon. Lady then. I do not know whether he notified her that he would make the attack. I do not know whether he notified the governor of the prison that he proposed, when he came to the House, to attack her, but that was what he did. I do not need to quote the words. The hon. Members accused the hon. Lady of taking the kind of actions which stirred up fears and hatreds in Northern Ireland. That was a political attack.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South and all the other Members from Northern Ireland on the Government side should either take steps to ensure that the hon. Lady is brought here to defend herself, or they should keep quiet about it. Some of us remember very well the 999 debates that we had on these matters when my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster was not here. We remember how these Unionist lions roared in her absence and how these frightened lambs scampered away when she was here. We saw them stamping out of the Chamber because they could not stand it any longer. One of the reasons why I deplore the hon. Lady's imprisonment is that one of the happiest spectacles I have seen in the House is the hon. Lady using the lash of her tongue across these Members from Northern Ireland, who have participated regularly in our debates only since the hon. Lady came here.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
The hon. Member's fifty-seventh birthday has already been referred to. I fear that he is suffering from lack of memory. I ask him, in all sincerity, since he referred to that speech of mine at the start of this Parliament, in the debate on the Queen's speech, in justice, at some point—not at this moment—to take that speech, read the whole of it and see whether I was fair.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
Not in the very least, but I think that if the hon. Gentleman will look at that speech, and it may be that he can recall it, he will see that virtually the larger part of it was devoted to an attack on another hon. Member, who was here, and to whom I had given notice. My mere reference to the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) was simply to say that she, in my view, represented those things of which I spoke, but that I was not going to attack her.
§ Mr. Foot
Of course the hon. Gentle-had a perfect right to attack the hon. Member for Antrim, North (the Rev. Ian Paisley). I know there was some confusion a little while ago about Antrim, North and Down, South. I do not know whether that arose because of those who sign the candidatures in Northern Ireland, but I am glad to make that distinction. However, the hon. Gentleman 1000 was, of course, perfectly entitled to attack the hon. Member for Antrim, North.
All I am saying to the hon. Member, though, and it is a serious question, is that the hon. Gentleman had no right to attack the hon. Lady in her absence—unless, of course, he had made representations to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to try to see whether the hon. Lady could be brought here. We have been told by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Down, South that he is in favour of that, that the hon. Lady should have been brought here. I do not know whether he has the support of the hon. Member for Londonderry in making such representations to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, but I must say that in the absence of having made such representations, or, at any rate, such successful representations, I think the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends should refrain from attacking the hon. Lady here.
I think they should club together, make common representations, which could be published in the Northern Ireland papers—the Belfast Telegraph, I think, is the journal: but at any rate let them all sign a letter saying that at all through these days of anxious debate what they have been seeking to do has been to ensure that the hon. Lady should be brought to the Bar, and what a disappointment it is to them that their desires have not carried any weight with the Stormont Government. We talk about hypocrisy. I must say that if the hon. and gallant Member for Down. South was really so eager that the hon. Lady should come here I think he should have made his representations a little earlier than the very last moment when they could possibly have been effective.
§ Mr. McMaster
I am much enjoying the hon. Gentleman's vigorous speech, but I think he must admit that during this debate many people have been criticised, including Mr. Speaker and the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland. We are considering whether the hon. Lady should be brought here to take the oath, and it is a relevant matter not only whether, if she came, Mr. Speaker would allow her to take the oath, but what offence she has committed, and whether, on grounds of security, and for such reasons, it is right that the risk 1001 should be taken of bringing her here. It is impossible to discuss these things without saying something of the offence she committed.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think the hon. Member is not intending to be discourteous—indeed, I am sure he is not—but some of his remarks ought to be more manifestly addressed in this direction.
§ Mr. Foot
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is always very difficult to know where the hon. Members for Northern Ireland are to be found. I apologise for having been led astray in that sense.
What I am saying to hon. Gentlemen opposite seriously is that before they ever embark again on such a studied series of attacks upon an hon. Member of this House they should take some account of what are the normal courtesies, and of what may, indeed, be questions which the Committee of Privileges would wish to consider. It is indeed a matter of courtesy to inform hon. Members when an attack is to be made on them here, and I must say that in the case of an hon. Member in prison these matters should be very carefully considered, particularly when suggestions are to be made, as they have been by two or three hon. Members opposite, including most specifically the hon. Member who has just spoken that the question of expulsion is to be considered. The only proper way of considering the hon. Lady's expulsion is for hon. Members to put down a Motion. There is nothing in the rules of the House against it. If hon. Members think that she has committed a crime of such a character that she should be expelled from the House, they should have the courage to put down such a Motion and have it debated in the House and see what are the consequences.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
The hon. Gentleman's histrionics are entertaining, but will he deny that the hon. Member in question has been convicted in a court of law of a criminal offence?
§ Mr. Foot
I understand the point about the criminal offence; it is a matter to be considered in the debate, and I will come to it in a moment. I am saying that if hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to press that matter to the point of saying that the hon. Lady should be expelled, which is what some of them have said in their speeches, they could put down a Motion for debate. It is neither advantageous nor satisfactory for the proper conduct of business in this House that loose charges about expulsion should be flung around by hon. Members who have not had the guts to put such a Motion on the Order Paper, as they are perfectly entitled to do under the laws of the House.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I think that the question of the hon. Lady's expulsion should be considered by the House, but surely the Motion should not be tabled until she has taken the oath, and certainly not until she is here.
§ Mr. Foot
I have no doubt that one reason why hon. Members have not the guts to put down such a Motion is that they know that the common sense and fairness of the House would insist that the hon. Lady should be brought here, whatever might be said by the Government of Northern Ireland. Of course they do not want to do that. They are very wise from their point of view not to have her here to make a speech, because she would have exploded their case. In exploding their case the hon. Lady would have been perfectly entitled to consider, in so far as the laws of the House allow it, the state of the law and the circumstances in Northern Ireland.
There is a difference between the way in which the law is operated in Northern Ireland and the way it is operated in this country. The Statutes prove it. All our debates of a few months ago about the Ulster Defence Regiment and the special powers prove it. The conditions are different there, so different that there had to be an entire reshaping of the police forces and the defence forces in Northern Ireland and the introduction of troops to preserve law and order. That is part of the hon. Lady's case. That is why she says she had to take steps to assist in defending people in the Bogside area.
1003 I am not trying to argue that case now; I am saying that it is relevant. I will not argue the case as to how she was tried, except to say in passing that some of us think that the way in which she was treated by the Appeal Court was outrageous. Some of us, once we have disposed of these matters, propose to take the step of dealing with the matter in the only way that is proper in the House of Commons, by putting down a Motion criticising the action of the judge in refusing a certificate for appeal to the House of Lords. Many of us think that that is one of the factors which contributed greatly to the difficulties of the situation.
§ Mr. Foot
Perhaps I might refer the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his hon. Friends to the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on 2nd July. They do not refer directly to the appeal for the certificate to the House of Lords, but they embrace that. My right hon. Friend asked:did the right hon. Gentleman or the Home Secretary represent to that Government"—Stormont—in view of our responsibility through the forces of the Crown for law and order, that the Northern Ireland Government should remit that sentence? Did they make that representation and, if they did, what answer did they get? If the Northern Ireland Government rejected it, what did the Government do?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd 1970; Vol. 803, c. 63.]Those were the questions asked by my right hon. Friend in the first debate that we had on this matter directly relating to the imprisonment of the hon. Lady. The Secretary of State for the Home Department has made no answer to those questions to this day. That is another part of my indictment of the behaviour of the Home Secretary in these matters, because I believe that he should have answered my right hon. Friend when he put those questions, just as I believe he is called upon to answer the questions which I posed earlier arising from the way in which Parliament has had some of its powers usurped by the Executive.
§ Mr. McMaster
If the hon. Lady was dissatisfied with the refusal of the Court 1004 of Appeal in Northern Ireland to grant her leave to appeal to the House of Lords, why did not she apply to the House of Lords for leave?
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman does not understand the law. Unfortunately, under the changed situation of the law, she had no power to make such an application to the House of Lords. The decision as to whether she could appeal to the House of Lords rested entirely with the judge in the appeal court. That is the position, and it is one of the positions that I call outrageous. It is one of the reasons why some of us will seek the only remedy for that situation, which is by a special Motion. If the hon. Gentleman examines the facts, he will discover that I am correct. I have taken legal advice about the possibilities open to the hon. Lady. In my opinion, one of the grievances of the whole situation arises from the fact that the hon. Lady was only permitted by a court in Northern Ireland to make an appeal to a Northern Ireland court. She was never allowed to appeal, as she should have been, to the supreme court of this country.
§ Mr. Foot
I understand also who were the judges, and I am in favour of putting down such a Motion criticising them. That is the proper way to do it. But some of us thought that we might be able to deal with these matters without resort to that. That is why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked these questions at the beginning of this Session, hoping that the Government of Northern Ireland would remit the sentence, and that representations would be made to the Government of Northern Ireland by the Home Secretary. All these questions were asked by my right hon. Friend.
The Government had a chance. They have had further chances during the whole of the past fortnight when we have been debating these matters. We discover at the end that those who have urged upon the Government in Stormont to allow the hon. Lady to come here now have the support of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South. He thinks that it would be a good idea to 1005 let her come, otherwise she might be made a martyr. The hon. and gallant Gentleman should have raised his powerful voice in Belfast a good deal earlier than this. It will come as news to a lot of people in Belfast that, while some of us have been working in the open to get the hon. Lady permission to come here, the hon. and gallant Gentleman has used his extensive powers and marched in every demonstration to ensure that the hon. Lady should have her rights.
I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman can escape the situation by that kind of thing. There have been occasion after occasion during the last fortnight when it would have been possible for the Government of Northern Ireland to give the hon. Lady a chance to come to the House to see what decision the House would take, and time and again those opportunities have been rejected with one excuse after another, pretending that it was Mr. Speaker; the rules of this House; the advice of the Home Secretary—and maybe he did give bad advice, as has been illustrated; but, above all, they sought to stick it out so that now there is no opportunity for the hon. Lady to come to argue her case for her rights, for what she is able to do in prison to be regulated by this House rather than the conventions and agreements that they have in Northern Ireland.
The Government of Northern Ireland, which have the sole responsibility in this matter, as the Leader of the House agreed yesterday, have acted in a way which merely shows their vindictiveness, their lack of sense in dealing with these explosive matters. It would have been perfectly possible for the Government in Stormont to recognise that an act of magnanimity would have paid them, but in all the past 50 years the Government of Northern Ireland have never been capable of magnanimity. That is the last quality anybody expects from them. Instead, they have always tried to hold in their fists everything they have got, and only by trying to prise off one finger after another have any concessions been wrested from them. Only by that method have we achieved any common decency in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
I say to hon. Members from Northern Ireland, to the Unionist Members and to members of the Orange Order that they cannot be proud of the way their Government have dealt with the situation.
1006 The hon. Lady will return to the House and will be able to put her case better than others can put it for her. For many years to come hon. Gentlemen opposite, associated with whatever branch of the Unionists—in Antrim, North or Down, South—will have to listen to a different voice, a voice which has been so long suppressed and so muffled in that part of Ireland which has never had fair representation in Stormont or in local government, and has never been spoken for by hon. Gentlemen on that side.
What this House has been fighting about is infinitely concerned with asserting that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster has rights equal with the rest of us. We have been fighting to protect them, fighting for the interests of her constituents, but also for the proper conduct of the affairs of this House.
These questions are not being decided by the Home Office, by intervention by subordinate Legislatures; they are questions to be decided by debate and decision in this House of Commons, advised maybe, by the Committee of Privileges.
John Milburn, the famous Leveller, said "What could happen to anyone can happen to everyone". That is the basis of justice in this country; of democracy in this country. We want to see these same ideas imported into the Six Counties. That is what we want to see. It is the efficient fighting of this case which is one of our objectives.
It is said that we have made a particular case a major issue. We do not apologise for that. All the liberties of this country were established round particular cases: Bradlaugh, Wilkes and whoever it might have been. Maybe this will be a famous case too. Despite all the accusations that are made against the hon. Lady, she will be vindicated not only because of her own courage and eloquence, but also because of the unparallelled folly of the Stormont Government.
§ 5.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Perhaps I might briefly reply to the debate.
I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) on his first official speech for the Opposition from the Dispatch Box. We would all note—this is perhaps the interesting part—that it does not seem to 1007 have inhibited him in any way from the normal eloquence that we are used to hearing from him. I hope that he will not mind my saying that he may find that responsibility in time will bring with it some constraint. When he reflects that he is talking officially for the Opposition, he may find a little difficulty in justifying some of the remarks he has made this evening rather away from the Motion. But that is for him, not for me.
Having said that, which I hope the hon. Member will take in good part, I must thank him for the kind personal remarks that he made about me. I also note the remarks of the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham). I do not think that any Minister in any Government can ever complain of any hon. Member on either side who pursues a particular case with great determination. Hon. Members have the right to do so. It is very good for Ministers and for Governments that they do. That is what Members of Parliament on both sides are elected for. We must all recognise this, and I hope that I do.
I note what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said, in concert with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), about the doubtful wisdom of putting this particular general proposition to the Committee of Privileges. I very much appreciate what they said. I hope that I am not wrong, but I recognise that they have made some fair points.
In answer to the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich I would make one point. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that it might be very awkward if a particularly urgent case came before the Committee of Privileges in October or November and it was not able to deal with this more general point. If that were to be the case, it would be possible—I say this without any commitment—to discharge the Committee of Privileges from this case, and maybe it would be right to set up some special committee at that stage. I should not like to prejudge it now. I thought that this was the right way to do it. If I am proved wrong, I am prepared to admit that and to see what can be done.
I do not want to comment on many of the issues which have been raised, 1008 because, as a member of the Committee of Privileges, it is important that I should not prejudge any of its discussions. Therefore, I will avoid doing that. Nor do I wish to be drawn into rather more general debates about the situation in Northern Ireland, which certainly, as far as I am concerned, obviously do not come either within my responsibility or, indeed, within the terms of the Motion. I should, however, like to refer to one or two detailed points.
First, I think I should answer my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), who feels, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster), that sending this general reference to the Committee of Privileges is wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford. North thought this was a perfectly clear matter with no area of doubt. Having to some extent lived with the problems connected with all of this for the last few weeks, I cannot accept his view.
I have found many matters of doubt and many questions to which I have been unable to find the answers, despite seeking the precedents and the other advice available to me. In many cases the precedents are not there. We must be careful that we are not confining this particular reference to one particular case, nor, indeed, to the issue which has become paramount in many people's minds; that of taking the oath.
Many other matters, besides that of taking the oath, have been raised by hon. Members. The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) was correct in raising the case of Mr. Owen. He went on to raise the case of Mr. Reader Harris, although he was not in prison and does not come within the terms of the Motion. However, Mr. Owen's case certainly does.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that Mr. Harris was prevented from carrying out his duties and, thus, his constituents were prevented from having his true representation.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I accept that, and I have a good deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said about that case. My only comment on it is that it does not come within the terms of the Motion because he was not actually in prison.
1009 There are, equally, many other matters which it is right to resolve. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North said that all these matters could be resolved by Executive action, action by the Government. I am afraid that this is where I differ from him. Perhaps they could he, but I believe that the rights of an hon. Member of this House must be a matter for the House. That must be the correct doctrine, and, therefore, the House should consider what are the rights.
Many of the rights to which I refer are matters for the House authorities and not matters for the Government. Problems involving receiving Parliamentary papers, putting down Questions and so on must be resolved. If they are clear to my hon. Friend, I am bound to say they are by no means clear to me; and I therefore think it worth-while to have them resolved and I hope that the Committee of Privileges will be able to do that.
The hon. Member for Paddington, North urged that the Committee of Privileges should meet as soon as possible. There are procedural difficulties here. I hope he appreciates that as we are considering a general proposition and not a particular case, the need for haste is not quite so strong. We are looking at a general proposition covering hon. Members in general. It is extremely important, as far as I and the Motion are concerned, to get this firmly in our minds.
§ Mr. Latham
The point about which I am particularly concerned is that there should be some urgent investigation into what I referred to earlier, which is the maligning of an Officer of this House, which may be found to be unwarranted. My submission on this point—and this goes for several other matters which have arisen out of this incident—is that unless investigations commence immediately, it may be difficult at a later stage to establish adequate evidence on which to make a decision. This is part of the 1010 urgency of the matter. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can find another way of investigating these aspects so that proper reports may be presented to, and prepared by, the Committee of Privileges.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I must not go beyond what I have said. I have taken advice on this matter and I cannot add to my earlier remarks.
I do not think there are any other matters to which I need now reply. I thank hon. Members who have taken part in the debate and have noted the points they made.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
I understood that when the right hon. Gentleman agreed to put down this Motion, he thought this was the best method by which this problem could be dealt with. I accept that. As this is the morning of the day after yesterday and he said that the views of the Home Secretary had been communicated to Mr. Porter, the Secretary for Home Affairs, is there any communication which the right hon. Gentleman can give to the House as to the effect? Can he say whether the hon. Lady can appear today, the last opportunity before the recess, to be sworn in?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Member more information. As I have sat in this House for about 10 hours, I am afraid that my contacts with the outside world have been not very close.
I hope that with these remarks the House will feel able to pass the Motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the matter of the rights of any hon. Member of this House who may be detained in one of Her Majesty's Prisons, and of his or her constituents, be referred to the Committee of Privileges; and that they do consider and report to what extent the privileges of this House require that such a Member should be granted facilities to carry out his parliamentary duties while in prison.