§ Mr. Speaker
I now have to rule on the complaint made yesterday by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook).
My ruling is that I consider that the matter of the complaint made by the hon. Member relating to a passage in an article in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper of 17th November is such that I would permit a motion relating to the matter to be given precedence over the Orders of the Day.
However, I should inform the House that I have today received a letter from Brigadier Ward, the secretary of the United Kingdom Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which reads as follows:
§ "Mr. Speaker,
§ I have the honour to refer to the question raised by Mr. Ivor Stanbrook this afternoon about a possible breach of privilege as a result of a statement allegedly by me which appeared in an article in the Sunday Telegraph on 17th November. I understand that this has been further referred to you for your consideration.
§ I think it might be helpful if I was to give you my account of what went on. What happened was this. I had a long telephone conversation with Mr. Norman Kirkham of the Sunday Telegraph on Friday 15th November. He was asking me about Bernard Levin's article Pulling Strings for the Czech puppets which appeared in The Times on 12th November. He started by saying that he had heard that some back bench MPs were going to boycott the visit by the Czechoslovakian Parliamentary Delegation which starts on 20th November. Later he put the question, 'What would happen if in the House of Commons while the Czechs were present there was a demonstration or some sort of attempt to block their progress?'. I replied—I absolutely 1107 have no exact record of what I said, but I am quite clear about the sort of thing— 'In the exceedingly unlikely event of this happening I imagine that the situation would be firmly dealt with'. I think I went on to say 'by those escorting'. I quite clearly meant that it would be the responsibility of the MPs who are looking after the Delegation to deal with the matter. There was of course absolutely no suggestion on my part that I myself would or could take any positive action. I accept that the article could be interpreted otherwise and for that I unreservedly apologise."
§ I have also received a letter from Mr. Norman Kirkham, the diplomatic correspondent oaf the Sunday Telegraph, which I will read to the House:
§ "DEAR MR. SPEAKER,
§ My attention has been drawn to the report of an alleged breach of privilege by Brigadier Ward.
§ I regret if my article gave the impression that it was Brigadier Ward who was going to deal with any MPs. It was quite clear from my conversation with him that it would be the escorting MPs who might be concerned.
§ I must apologise for any misleading impression which my article may have caused.
§ Yours sincerely,
§ NORMAN KIRKHAM."
§ I have also been in touch with the hon. Member for Orpington, who cannot be here today for reasons beyond his control. He has stated orally that if he were here he would not seek to move any motion on the matter.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
I have listened to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and to the apologies which you read. In view of those apologies, I hope that the House will feel that there is no need to take the matter further.
§ Mr. Edward Heath
I support what the Leader of the House said, and I hope that the House will follow the guidance he has given. The House is rightly jealous of its privileges, but on an occasion on which apologies are made I hope that the House will accept the advice of the Leader of the House.