HC Deb 04 December 1973 vol 865 cc1089-91
Mr. Speaker

Mr. Charles Pannell, on a matter of privilege.

Mr. C. Pannell

I wish to raise a matter of privilege, or rather of contempt of this House, by the Lord Chancellor. I start from a self-evident basis that you, Mr. Speaker, and you alone, are responsible for the Order Paper. What goes on it is a matter for you, and it is for you to rule a matter out of order if you think it is wrong. It is not for the Lord Chancellor, in another place, drinking and eating at the Carlton Glut)—[HON. MEMBERS : "Junior Carlton Club."]—last night, not in the House of Lords, to tell us what should be on the Order Paper, or to attempt to pre-empt the debate that will take place later today. For this purpose we have to make up our minds whether we are dealing with the Lord Chancellor, a Peer of Parliament or a leading member of the Conservative Party.

In this context it is worth remembering that when the order for sequestration was made against the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers it was signed and witnessed by Quintin McGarel Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone. Having started that judicial process, it is reasonable that he should keep his nose out of the matter.

In asking you to make a ruling, I know that the position of a peer is not the same as that of other people. It is laid down in the 18th Edition of Erskine May, in page 169 : Hence it is that neither House can claim, much less exercise, any authority over a Member of the other. Neither House of Parliament can take upon itself to punish any breach of privilege or contempt offered to it by any Member of the other House. If any complaint is made against any individual Member or against any of the officers of the other House the usual mode of proceeding is to examine into the fact and then lay a statement of that evidence before the House of which the person complained of is a Member or officer. I am therefore asking you to rule, Mr. Speaker, whether there is enough evidence in the speech made by the Lord Chancellor last night for you to take action. I quote, not from the newspapers, but from the official hand-out of the speech : And what of a judge who has been so traduced unjustly, and by a motion every statement of fact in which is false, and could have been ascertained to be false at the time the motion was put down? We call ourselves "honourable" Members because we presume that there is honour in the House. Before signing that motion I scrupulously examined it and had researches made. Every statement in it was true. Therefore, the honour of a Member of the House and of all the Members who signed the motion, has to be set against the honour of somebody who escaped from this place by the grace of Wedgwood Benn and went to the other place to become head of the judiciary. What are we to say of anyone who holds forth on matters of proberty and integrity when this sort of thing is done?

The hand-out of the speech is far longer than the part I have quoted and it will have appeared in all the newspapers. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to say something about it.

That statement will brood over our debate today and I ask you to say at the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker, what rule of order you will seek to lay down to guide hon. Members on the Opposition benches, or to guard them from the capital that will be sought to be made from the Lord Chancellor's speech. If the speech is ruled out of order, it will have to be out of order for both sides of the House while you consider it.

This is a matter on which someone has attempted to lay down the law to you,Mr. Speaker. I can only wonder what would have happened if you had attempted to take such monstrous liberties with Members of the other place.

I raise the matter with great reluctance. We are always told to be very solicitous and never to refer to the other place in terms other than those of good will. During the 24 years I have been in this place, I have always observed that custom.

Mr. Tebbit


Mr. Pannell

If the hon. Gentleman who called out "Humbug" will rise in his place, Mr. Speaker will no doubt call him to order.

Mr. Tebbit rose

Mr. Pannell

I cannot give way for the submission of a point of order.

I shall be glad to see, Mr. Speaker, that you have the benefit of the statement and the copy of The Times which has given the speech full-length treatment, to say nothing of the lesser newspapers, so that you will be able so to rule.

Mr. Speaker

Does the right hon. Gentleman wish me to take into account the hand-out in considering my ruling? I have a copy of The Times. I have not a copy of the hand-out. Will he bring it to the Table?

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me a copy of the hand-out. In accordance with modern practice I will consider this matter carefully and rule upon it tomorrow.