§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice on the important matter of the right of individuals to approach their Members of Parliament in the House. You will be aware that at Question Time I attempted to ask the Secretary of State for Employment about the rights of employees of his Department to approach this House next week to protest about redundancies and closures. I have been told that, even if they come here to lobby their Members of Parliament in their own time, they will be threatened with the Industrial Relations Act. How can we seek to defend the rights of people who wish to see their Members of Parliament about the Government's actions?
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). Although I recognise the force of your view, Mr. Speaker, that the approach by citizens to this place to see their Members of Parliament may not directly be a matter for you, the right of citizens to come here to see their Members of Parliament has been a jealously guarded privilege of simply being a citizen of this democracy. If, by virtue of the employment of people, the Government are able to threaten them with action as a consequence of their coming here in their own leave time to lobby Members of Parliament, to whom should those people go for protection in respect of what is perceived to be a basic right to come here to lobby Members of Parliament? Your guidance on this issue would be appreciated, Mr. Speaker, otherwise we shall be in the extraordinary position of having a Government as an employer seriously impeding by threats the right of people to see their Members of Parliament at Parliament.
§ Mr. Speaker
I fully accept that there is a right on the part of citizens to lobby their Members of Parliament, but whether they are given leave to do so cannot be a matter on which I can be held responsible. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman suggests otherwise. If he is suggesting that privilege is involved, he should write to me in the usual way and I shall certainly consider the matter.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
Before you give a ruling on this matter, Mr. Speaker, may I ask you to read the report of the Committee of Privileges of 1940, which sets out that a serving officer approached Captain Duncan Sandys, who was then a Member, with information about deficiencies in the nation's defences, as a result of which the War Office took action to prosecute the officer concerned. The Committee of Privileges took up the matter, interrogated the then Prime Minister, and reported that any matter brought by a citizen to a Member of Parliament with a view to action in the House was itself privileged. That was an important judgment 45 years ago and is directly relevant to the issue which my right hon. Friend has brought to the attention of the House. It would be a terrible thing, Mr. Speaker, if in an aside you were to cast off the privilege—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is intolerable that the right hon. Gentleman should seek to prejudice any consideration that I may give to this matter. I shall look into it in the greatest detail. I resent it that the right hon. Gentleman should take the view that I propose to cast privilege aside.
§ Mr. Benn
With the greatest respect, I was making no such implication, Mr. Speaker. You said, Mr. Speaker, that a question of of privilege might be raised. I took up that point and observed quite correctly, because I remember the case very well, that the House ruled that it was a privilege of a Member to receive information from his constituents with a view to action being taken. I said that it would be a bad thing if that precedent were cast aside. I was casting no implication or reflection upon your ruling. I made my remarks in defence of those who come to Parliament for justice, a right which it should be the duty of the House to uphold.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the right hon. Gentleman reads the report of these exchanges in Hansard tomorrow, he will find that that is exactly what I said. I said that there is a right of citizens to come to this place. I said also that I would look into the matter. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman may raise the issue as a matter of privilege. In that event I shall look into it most carefully.