HC Deb 26 January 1984 vol 52 c1071 4.38 pm
Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It concerns a document that has recently come into my hands. It is headed "Confidential" and seems to be a memo from a Mr. B. Ingham, who has been mentioned already in the House this afternoon. The memo is dated 30 December 1983, and I believe that Mr. Ingham is the chief press officer for the Prime Minister. The document is dated, therefore, before the Second Reading of the Rates Bill applying to England and Wales and between the time of the Second Reading and Committee stage of the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, which is similar legislation for north of the border.

Certain parts of the document are quite innocuous, such as references to how Ministers can get on to propaganda bandwagons — "The Jimmy Young Show", "Today", "The World at One"—and it even deals with using the gutter press such as the News of the World. The point that I wish to raise with you, Mr. Speaker, is a reference in the document to opposition by the Government's own supporters. It says: The successful plan … should treat as a matter of urgency elements among the Government's own supporters to ensure that they are neutralised, if not positively harnessed to the Government's cause. The House has already seen the right hon. Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) and other Conservative Members vote against or abstain from voting on that legislation. Will you, Mr. Speaker, investigate the matter to see whether undue pressure is being put on right hon. and hon. Members? I am sure that you, as the protector of all hon. Members, would disapprove strongly of an attempt to "neutralise" and "harness" the right hon. Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup and for Cambridgeshire, South-East and other right hon. and hon. Members.

In the document there may be prima facie evidence for referring the matter to the Committee of Privileges. Therefore, I would like to give you the document, Mr. Speaker, to examine in your own time before making a statement to the House about it.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you investigate the suggestion of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), will you take the opportunity to confirm that the person referred to, Mr. Bernard Ingham, gives as devoted service to the Prime Minister in his present capacity as he gave to Mr. Tony Benn when he acted as press secretary on Mr. Benn at the Department of Energy some time ago?

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not for me to make a statement about that. From what I know of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, it is difficult to put pressure on them — I say that with some background knowledge. I do not need the document, but if the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) alleges that contempt of the House is occurring he must put it in writing and I shall consider it in the usual way.