Complaint of Privilege

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th November 1960.

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Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East 12:00 am, 15th November 1960

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I desire to raise a question of Privilege. It concerns a letter in The Times today from Mr. Randolph Churchill referring to a statement in this House by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), which appears in HANSARD for Wednesday, 9th November, c. 1065.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster, in interrupting my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), said: The hon. Member should be careful. He must realise that free speech means that one may call a spade a spade, but not a coward a coward."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1960; Vol. 629, c. 1065.] In the letter to which I have referred. Mr. Randolph Churchill said: Unless Mr. Nabarro's words have no meaning at all, they were a plain reference to my recent action for slander against him, in which the jury awarded me £1,500 for the very word about me which he has chosen to repeat in the House of Commons Surely this is an exceptionally gross abuse of privilege of Parliament? I would respectfully submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that if this statement by Mr. Randolph Churchill in The Times is untrue, there seems to be a prima facie breach of Privilege on the part of Mr. Randolph Churchill. If, on the other hand, what he says is true, then I would submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Member for Kidderminster is himself in breach of the privileges of this House. I hold no brief whatever for the opinions of Mr. Randolph Churchill, but surely it is a serious position if a private citizen who has won an action for slander against a Member of this House can find the slander repeated here.

Our privileges in this House are, or should be, a precious protection through this House of the public liberty of the individual. If we allow our privileges to be frivolously abused, it brings them into discredit and, I submit, harms both Members of this House and members of the public. I beg to submit this matter to you, Mr. Speaker.