HC Deb 07 March 1988 vol 129 c26 3.49 pm
Mr. Speaker

I have a statement to make about the privileges of the House.

I received last week complaints from several hon. Members about the contents of a letter sent by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) to the constituents of certain members of the Standing Committee on the Licensing (Retail Sales) Bill. The letter accused the Members concerned of choosing to filibuster on that Bill as a means of obstructing the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. It went on to urge the recipients of the letter to take action to persuade members to desist from conduct which, it was said, would scandalise millions of people". The letter from the hon. Member was sent before the proceedings on the Licensing (Retail Sales) Bill had begun, and in my opinion its tone and the manner of its distribution amounted to an attempt to bring unacceptable pressure upon Members of this House in the performance of their duties.

The hon. Member for Mossley Hill has written to every Member concerned and to all those to whom his original letter was addressed, withdrawing any suggestion of a filibuster. He has also made this letter public. In these circumstances, I do not propose to use my power to grant precedence to a motion on this matter. I do, however, wish to give a serious warning about the care which those involved with this Bill on both sides must take to avoid committing contempts of the House by seeking to bring improper pressure upon hon. Members.

In considering the present complaints, I have received considerable evidence of unacceptable conduct by bodies outside the House. Efforts appear to have been made to prevent Members from speaking about matters upon which they must be free to speak in this House, and there has been personal harassment of Members in their constituencies. I wish to make it clear that 1 shall take very seriously any continuation of this conduct and I urge hon. Members to use their influence to ensure that the merits of business before Parliament can be discussed calmly and responsibly without threats of intimidation.