§ 4.8 pm
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I should like your guidance on a long-standing convention in the House by which Members of Parliament do not trespass on the constituencies of other Members.
In the past few days a scurrilous leaflet has been circulated in one of the wards of my constituency by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton). Its distribution has caused considerable consternation to my constituents because it has the insignia of the House of Commons in the right-hand corner, it also has the print of the House of Commons on the right-hand side and it implies that the hon. Member for Edge Hill is servicing and representing my constituents. In the final paragraph of his leaflet he says:Now that the Mossley Hill Liberal Association has adopted me as their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, I look forward to extending the service to the area coming into the constituency. Please remember that if I ever can be of service to you, or if you would like to help the Liberal campaign, you shouldn't hesitate to get in touch. You can write to me at the House of Commons".I ask for your protection, Mr. Speaker, from one Member who is trespassing into the constituency of another.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I make it clear to you and the House that before issuing the leaflet I consulted my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), the chief whip of the Liberal party? He made it clear to me that a Committee of the House had considered the use of the emblem that is shown on the leaflet, which is not the insignia of the House of Commons, and found that it was in order to use it. Furthermore, I made it clear in the letter, while the Boundary Commission is still sitting, that the Mossley Hill Liberal association has just been formed, and in future I would hope for the support of the people in that area if I were ever to be chosen as a candidate there.
It is proper and in order for any person to seek selection as a prospective candidate.
§ Mr. Alton
Surely it is the right of any citizen to seek your protection, Mr. Speaker, to have the right of free speech and to make it clear that he has an alternative point of view to put to others. I do not seek to interfere in the work of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) while the Wavertree constituency exists. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is capable of discharging his duties in that respect. It is made clear in the leaflet that the largest component part of the new Mossley Hill constituency is my own Edge Hill costituency. That is the truth. [HON. MEMBERS: "Election expenses".] There is no question of election expenses being—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] My position is identical to that of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Thornton), who was recently chosen as prospective candidate for the seat of my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams).
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you be good enough to give long and careful consideration to this matter and not what I would term an off-the-cuff reply? There are many possible ramifications, of which you will be aware after you have considered the matter.
The hon. Gentleman said that he saw his chief whip. What that has to do with it I do not know. We have Clerks in the House who are helpful to every hon. Member, irrespective of whether he is in Government or Opposition. One should know that the Clerks should always be approached with regard to such matters. If they deem it necessary, they advise hon. Members to approach you, Mr. Speaker.
This is a serious issue because we know that there will be a number of similar happenings in the near future, when many constituencies will be amalgamated. You will not know, Mr. Speaker, what manoeuvres and manipulations are going on. I ask you to be good enough to say that you will consider the matter and come back to us with a considered reply, because otherwise there could be dangers for all hon. Members. Any prospective candidate could be affected. There are 18 in Bermondsey—[HON. MEMBERS: "Twenty-four".] I am told that there are 24. They could all use House of Commons paper and say that they are the prospective condidates for the lesbian league or the homosexual league.
I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider the matter carefully as there is an abuse of our conventions.
§ Mr. Speaker
I shall call the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Thornton), and then, with respect to others, I hope to move on. I have a statement to make that may be helpful to the House.
§ Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Liverpool, Garston)
I realise that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) may feel that he has considerable difficulties with his alliance friends in Liverpool. I should like to make it clear that his situation is not unique. As he said, other hon. Members on both sides of the House will be faced with the problem between now, the determination of the boundaries by the Boundary Commission and the run-up to the general election, whenever it comes, of having a cross-constituency interest as a candidate. I hope that in your deliberations, Mr. Speaker, you will give guidance to hon. Members who are affected in that way as it is no wish of mine or, I hope, of any hon. Member to abuse the conventions to which we have all, or nearly all, adhered for a long time, to trespass on another right hon. or hon. Member's constituency. We would very much appreciate your guidance.
§ Mr. Speaker
The House largely disciplines itself on such issues. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), who came into the House on the same day as I did, which I never tire of repeating. The hon. Gentleman has a feel about these things. Obviously there will be difficulties with the changes that I understand are likely to come about.
§ Mr. Speaker
Apparently those changes are, coming about. Since 4 o'clock a Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Services, to which I turn for advice on such matters, has been considering this very leaflet. I will be advised on the hon. Gentleman's point of order. I think that it goes further than the hon. Gentleman thinks. We want some guidelines for hon. Members who will be in real difficulty. Perhaps at a later date I shall make a statement to the House when I have received the distilled wisdom of the Committee and have had a conference on the matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that hon. Members will not raise the same question. With respect, we could go on all day.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I do not wish to pursue the general issue, Mr. Speaker, but will you give the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) the opportunity of reconsidering one remark that he made about the contents of the leaflet—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are not going into the matter any more. In view of my statement, we shall not have an exchange across the Floor.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. Pursuant to a point of order yesterday on a matter of considerable substance, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) has been accused by a former chief of the defence staff of misleading the House. Has there been any request for a personal statement to be made?
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand that statements have been made outside the House by the right hon. Gentleman and by the admiral concerned. Nothing except the hon. Gentleman's point of order has been said within the House.