HC Deb 28 June 1989 vol 155 cc973-7 3.31 pm
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Although they have not yet been printed in Hansard, I wonder whether your attention has been drawn to remarks made last night by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) about our late colleague Mr. Airey Neave. In the course of his speech, the hon. Gentleman asserted that Mr. Neave had been involved in treason.

You will know, Mr. Speaker, that Mr. Neave was more than a personal friend to those of us who were old enough to serve in the second world war and then together in this House. You will also know that outside this place he was one of the most admired and courageous of all our war heroes. The hon. Member's remarks, which are now widely current, have deeply wounded not only Conservative Members, but many Opposition Members who knew Mr. Neave's qualities.

My question to you, Sir, is twofold. First, was it in order for the hon. Gentleman to make such an infamous charge, and, if not, what action can you take? Secondly, if by some strange quirk it was in order for the hon. Gentleman to use the privilege of this place to make such an assertion, in the light of the hurt that it will cause not merely to hon. Members but to the family of our late colleague—whose arms are here to remind us of his significance to our country in its hour of danger—have you received any indication from the Leader of the Opposition, or from anyone speaking on his behalf, that his attention has been drawn to the matter and that he has reprimanded the hon. Gentleman and repudiates what he has said?

Mr. Speaker

The matter has been drawn to my attention. Of course, I have not had an opportunity, nor has the House, of reading it in Hansard. What was said was in order in terms of free speech in this place, but I must say to the whole House that successive Committees of Privileges and Procedure have drawn attention to the obligation on hon. Members to use their freedom of speech with responsibility. The Chair makes no comment on individual speeches that are in breach of no rule of the House, but I trust that there will be general support throughout the House for the proposition that hon. Members should avoid expressing themselves in ways that are bound to cause deep offence.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was one of six hon. Members who were in the House when the statement was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). I am bound to wonder whether my hon. Friend was informed that this point of order would be raised so that he could have been in the Chamber on this occasion.

Mr. Speaker

I am not aware of that.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. The late Mr. Airey Neave had been mentioned in dispatches for gallantry and had been awarded the military OBE, the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order, yet last evening it was alleged in the House that he was involved in treason.

There are few people of whom it can be said that he could never do anything dishonourable, but one of those few of whom it could be said is Airey Neave. He served his country in war with exemplary courage, and this House in peace with exemplary fidelity. Airey Neave is not able to be here to defend himself, but his friends wish to defend him.

Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, to attack a former Member of the House who cannot defend himself, and would it be in order for you to give a ruling that assaults on the dead involving a charge of treason should in future be out of order?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I will take together all the points of order on this subject.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to be associated with the remarks of my hon. Friends who have spoken on behalf of Airey Neave. I have read, as I am sure many other hon. Members have, the reports in the Library of last night's Adjournment debate, and I confirm that the wording of what was said was disgraceful. On no fewer than three occasions was Airey Neave accused of treason.

I do not believe that we can leave matters as they are and simply say that what was said was in order and that nothing more can be done about it. I suggest that we must call on the shadow Leader of the House or the Leader of the Opposition to come to the House and apologise on behalf of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who behaved in a quite disgraceful way. Such lack of courtesy should not be accepted by the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If what the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) has said were to be the case, you might decide that it would be a good idea for an inquiry to be held into the facts surrounding the allegations that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) last night.

While you are about it, Mr. Speaker, it might be a good idea for that inquiry to call on the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to substantiate the allegations that he made against all Labour Members recently about their connections with the KGB. If it is good enough for an issue such as that to be raised, let us have a wholesale inquiry into all the allegations that are made by the Tories.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). Surely it cannot be proper for the holder of two of the greatest awards for gallantry in the field, who was murdered within the precincts of the House by the INLA and who was a much loved and respected Member of the House to be slandered in such a grotesque and contemptible manner. If there is no provision for you to make a ruling, Mr. Speaker, let the House decide that such allegations should never be made about an hon. Member ever again.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did not know Airey Neave—perhaps it is better that way—so I will not speak ill of the dead. Whether or not he was involved with the security forces I cannot tell. However, if we talk about the living and about this House, it is interesting to note that at no time, or certainly rarely, does it rise to the occasion and protect Socialist Members who are on the Left and who speak about certain issues, when repeatedly we are libelled and slandered. That has been going on for some time.

As my good comrade, if I may call him that, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has said, a certain individual in the south of England has made allegations that have been used by the Foreign Office against myself and others. If anyone ought to be investigated, that person ought to be investigated. The Foreign Office and the Government should be investigated, too, because they are totally corrupt.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

I am not in favour of attacks on the dead, but I wish to make my position perfectly clear. It was a great pity that the Father of the House did not stop his point of order before he reached the stage where he turned it into a political issue. The key point is whether it was an insult to the late Airey Neave to say what my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) said about him during the Adjournment debate last night. Adjournment debates are the responsibility of the individual Member who is allocated half an hour at the end of the day's proceedings. It had nothing whatever to do with any political party in the House. [Interruption.] It is all right for Conservative Members to snigger and laugh. The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) is standing there sniggering.

However, I say to them, particularly to the Father of the House and the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), that if they intend to turn this into the kind of political issue that they are in danger of turning it into they are just as guilty—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Ewing

I want this point to be heard, Mr. Speaker. They are just as guilty of besmirching the memory of Airey Neave as any other hon. Member who attacks him, now that he is no longer with us.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that we can pursue the matter any further. We have freedom of speech in this place, as all hon. Members know. Every right hon. and hon. Member must take responsibility for what he says here. What was said last night I personally deprecate, naturally, since I also knew Airey Neave. I think that the whole House accepts that he was a patriot in the true sense of the word. However, what was said by the hon. Member concerned was his responsibility and it was in breach of no rule of the House.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

We cannot pursue the matter, but go on.

Mr. Walker

I am sorry if you feel, Mr. Speaker, that in some way I am taking advantage of the House, but those of us who have service backgrounds are conscious of the fact that some individuals who served their country during the second world war did so under appalling conditions, particularly those in prison camps. There are generations living today who do not understand the emotions and the feelings of those who were involved in those circumstances and situations. That is why it is important that hon. Members who make speeches about individuals who lived through those circumstances should bear in mind the record of the individual, as against the allegations.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have already given you notice. You will recall that during yesterday's debate on the Football Spectators Bills the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) tried to besmirch the good name of racing by saying that there were 600 arrests at Ascot. Subsequently, I ascertained from the assistant chief constable of Thames Valley that in fact there were only 32 arrests. The hon. Gentleman, who is here to defend himself—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot return to that debate. Please raise the point of order with me.

Mr. Holt

The hon. Gentleman, who is here to defend himself, then said that he did not say last week; he said last year. I then checked on the number of arrests last year. The figure was not 600 then, either; it was a similar figure to that for last week.

I did not wish to raise the matter today, because I should have liked to have the opportunity to ascertain exactly what the hon. Member for Copeland said in the debate late last night. I am told by Hansard that I am not allowed to look at the speech of any other hon. Member until it has been printed, in the same way as you, Mr. Speaker, said that you cannot see what the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) said until it has been printed. However, the hon. Member for Copeland is able to check what he said before it is printed. Last night I was told by Hansard that if the hon. Gentleman had wanted to check what he had said and correct the false information that he, as a Front-Bench spokesman in a major debate had given to the House, he could have cleared his name and that of horse racing.

Mr. John Cunningham (Copeland)


Mr. Speaker

Order. I had better have the first bite.

The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) did me the courtesy of informing me that he would raise this matter. Page 264 of "Erskine May" states: It is not in order for a Member to obtain or to quote during a current sitting the record made for the Official Report of the remarks of any other Member. That is a long-standing rule. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have it changed, he must draw it to the attention of the Procedure Committee.

Dr. Cunningham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) were not so unpleasant, boorish and graceless in his approach to debates, the matter could have been settled quite simply yesterday evening and we need not have detained the House today. The hon. Gentleman could have had the text of my speech, which was lying on the Table of the House.

I used figures that were used in the Second Reading debate in the House of Lords on 2 February 1989. Those figures were obtained by my noble Friend Lord Graham of Edmonton. He obtained them for Ascot week last year. They relate to all arrests in and around the vicinity of Ascot and the racecourse, including public transport to and from the course. The figures were provided 6y the local police.

Mr. Holt

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not taking any further points of order. We cannot have a continuation of last night's debate.