HL Deb 07 March 1968 vol 289 cc1421-5

My Lords, I rise to put before your Lordships a matter—I do so with no pleasure; and I have naturally informed the noble Earl, Lord Arran, that I am going to raise this question—based on an article of which the noble Earl is the author which appeared in last night's issue of the Evening News. I can merely put this before your Lordships' House because, as your Lordships well know, we have no set of procedures, as in another place, for matters of privilege; and only this House can decide whether or not they wish to leave the matter alone or whether they wish to remit it to the Committee for Privileges.

The article in question, I submit, offends in two directions. If I may, I will read an extract. The noble Earl's article, after some gay remarks on how various noble Lords voted, contained the following sentence: For the hundred Peers who voted for the Government I have nothing but contempt. That sentence, if it means anything, means that the noble Earl holds 109 of your Lordships in contempt. This is not restricted, nor is it qualified to their action in voting; it describes the noble Earl's judgment of the character and integrity of 109 Members of your Lordships' House.

Let me hasten to say that I escape from the ink blots of the noble Earl's pen in that, having listened to the whole of the Second Reading debate, I felt unable myself to vote. I hope I am not—and I am sure your Lordships are not—unduly sensitive. No-one at all minds political criticism. We have all been subject to criticism in your Lordships' House and in another place, and on platforms throughout the country. That is healthy and good, and all political controversy is to be praised. But surely this goes beyond reasonable and fair criticism and is personally offensive to 109 Members of your Lordships' House.

The second direction in which I submit the article offends is in the next sentence, which says: When it comes to the Socialists begging the Tory backwoodsman not to go home but to stay and vote for them, we no longer have an Upper House for which one can have the slightest respect. This, I submit, is a general insult to your Lordships' House by one of its Members. We listen to and accept lots of rude things said about this House, but not said in those terms by one of its Members, whether inside or outside your Lordships' House. I must say that when I read the noble Earl's opinion 3f this House, I wondered why he graced our debates, feeling as he did.

It is for your Lordships to take a view and to take any action you may like, but I submit that this article has transgressed what is said in the Companion to Standing Orders, which on page 512 says: Each House is also the guardian of its dignity and may punish any insult to the House as a whole. If ever anything insulted your Lordships' House as a whole it is to say: We no longer have an Upper Hot se for which one can have the slightest respect. We all make mistakes. Nobody is more conscious of that than I myself. Looking back now over seventy years of life I know so well that. I have made many mistakes, and if the noble Earl Lord Arran, expresses regret for those words I for one would advise your Lordships to leave the matter alone. I conclude by saying this. I do not know whether there has been a breach of privilege. I do know that there has been a breach of taste.


My Lords, I have little to say, except, first of all, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for telling me, in his usual courteous fashion, that he was going to raise this matter, and then to say this. The things I wrote in the article to which the noble Lord refers were things which I believe. Had I spoken during the debate, I should have used exactly the same language as I used in the article itself. It still seems to me shameful that any country, and our own country in particular, should go back on its pledged word. Had I said these things during our debate, I wonder whether any noble Lord would have moved that I be no longer heard.

As your Lordships must surely know by now, I am an ardent admirer of the House of which I am fortunate enough to find myself a junior Member, and I try to play my small part. But it is the duty, as well as the privilege of the Queen's Peers—and let us not forget that we are the Queen's Peers—to express ourselves according to our principles. I have done exactly that. If in doing so I have been guilty of any insult against the traditions or dignity of the House as a whole, or against the feelings of any individual Peers, then I am most truly and deeply sorry. But I propose to continue saying and writing what I think about Governments and politicians inside or outside Parliament. That is my birthright. it is the birthright of every Englishman. I leave it to your Lordships to decide whether my apologies are or are not satisfactory.


My Lords, I think that it is a little over a quarter of a century ago since a similar Motion was made in this House, and at the end of the debate at that time the whole House felt that it had better be left alone. I think that the matter now has been quite sufficiently aired by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and that it would be better all round if we just allowed the matter to drop at this point.


My Lords, if it means that the noble Earl's apology is accepted, I would entirely concur.


My Lords, I should like to echo the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. I do not think that any of us has any knowledge of how we would deal with a privilege case, because we have no clearly formulated policy. In another place they have very strict rules and—though I must be careful not to be in contempt of another place—they contrive so far as possible not to discuss an alleged contempt until the Committee of Privileges has had a go at it. It would be open to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, to put down a Motion. I do not think that it would be appropriate that I should even discuss whether there was a contempt or try to interpret the noble Earl's remarks, which we shall read to-morrow with interest. The matter having been aired, I hope that your Lordships will feel that it would best befit our dignity to let the matter drop. I do not think that any of us would wish to interpret the noble Earl's remarks as a threat. Indeed, I think I should not comment any further, except to say that I am sure that your Lordships, with customary good sense, will now feel inclined to let the matter go.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may be allowed to support what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said. I must apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, if I reveal that I am not normally a reader of his output and therefore know only what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. has read out. But for some time the noble Earl was a supporter who sat on these Benches behind me, though not a member of my Party, until he moved away and joined the Liberal Party—or perhaps the Liberal Party has joined him, I am really not quite sure which. But wherever he goes, all of us are 50 per cent. of the time full of admiration for him and for the other 50 per cent. exasperated, but all of the time full of affection for him. And perhaps we must take the rough with the smooth.

I do not know about the rest of your Lordships, but it seems to me, if I am not committing a breach of privilege myself, that we in this House are a good deal more sensible about our privileges and a good deal less sensitive than those in another place. And perhaps my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, having aired this matter, as he was perfectly entitled to do, will feel that justice has been done to the occasion, and that, at any rate, we have given the noble Earl material for vet another column.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, very much for the admiration which he has expressed for my noble friend Lord Arran. I should like to say that I support the remarks made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, and I hope that the House will accept his advice.


My Lords, may I, with the permission of the House, make two remarks? Of course, I am more than content to follow the course advocated by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, expressed his regrets if, intentionally or unintentionally, he had in any way insulted the House collectively. We all know that in life an apology is accepted in the spirit in which it is made, and therefore I am more than content to follow the wish of your Lordships to leave the matter as it is, with no regrets for having raised it and no ill-feelings following.