HC Deb 18 January 1978 vol 942 cc459-60
Mr. Speaker

Yesterday, the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) raised a matter of privilege concerning a caption on the back page of The Guardian which, he claimed, implied a reflection on the impartiality of Mr. Speaker.

I should inform the House that within two hours of the complaint having been made I received a letter from Mr. Peter Preston, editor of The Guardian, giving me an assurance that no such reflection was intended and expressing regret that the caption may have been miscon strued. I shall see that a copy of the complete text of the letter is recorded in the Journal.

In view of this, I am sure that the House will not wish to take action which might lead to the matter being pursued further. I am, however, deeply grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter, because the impartiality of Mr. Speaker is of the utmost importance to this House. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear".]

If the hon. Gentleman will now indicate to me that he no longer requires a ruling, I think that we might profitably consider the matter as closed.

Mr. Anthony Grant

In view of the apology that you have so promptly received, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that it is wise to accept your advice and leave the matter there.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will allow me to say a few words on this matter.

The whole House will be delighted that this matter has been disposed of with common sense and without more ado. But there were interventions yesterday when the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) raised the matter—interventions suggesting that the freedom of the Press was involved in this issue. We all pay the highest regard to the freedom of the Press as a principle of the greatest importance, but equally important is the impartiality of the Chair. Although the Press is entitled to comment how it likes on our doings here and on your rulings, the one thing the Press may not comment on is your impartiality. It is inevitable that when such a matter is raised in the Press it damages the standing of the House and undermines the respect in which it is held.

I suggest that what you have said, Mr. Speaker, is absolutely correct. We cannot carry on the business of the House unless we have complete confidence in the impartiality of Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the House will agree.

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