Complaint of Privilege

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd February 1972.

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Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough 12:00 am, 23rd February 1972

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to draw your attention to the report of what I think is a vicious untruth, which I submit is a contempt of this House and should be considered by the Committee of Privileges. The report is in today's issue of The Guardian newspaper and it is headed, Wilson Blames Tory 'Rowdies' ". There are three sections which I should like you to consider. The report says: Mr. Wilson last night denounced the Conservative Party for bringing about a deterioration in standards of civilised behaviour, both in Parliament and in society at large.In a speech to the trade union group of Labour M.P.s at the Commons he declared that if 'organised disruptions' continued from the Conservative benches 'our parliamentary system could become unworkable.' Later the report said: As for recent scenes in Parliament, their origin could be traced directly to the behaviour of Conservative back benchers aided and abetted by their front bench in the last Parliament. The final extract to which I draw your attention is: 'Today, Labour spokesmen cannot get up without organised operations to impugn their personal sincerity… In support of this submission, I would merely refresh your mind that on 20th January the House was suspended during Prime Minister's Questions after physical movements, which were looked upon as minor assault, by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain), neither of whom is a Conservative Member. On 31st January we had the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) physically assaulting the Home Secretary. She is not a Conservative Member. As recently as 18th February we had the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) making what we now accept as a generous apology for a physical movement against the Leader of the Liberal Party. He is not a Conservative Member.

In terms of the general effect of rowdyism in the House, I think that I am justified in reminding you that on two occasions during the wind-up speeches of Government spokesmen in recent important debates, I have had to seek your protection in order to ensure silence for those speeches.

I submit shortly that whoever is responsible for this report clearly recognises the growing revulsion of the public at these recent happenings and is trying to present perverted reports which give a wrong impression. If it is the newspaper whose wrong reporting is responsible, I believe that that newspaper is in contempt and should be brought before the Committee of Privileges. If the Leader of the Opposition made these remarks, I believe that he has out-bid Dr. Goebbels in perverting the truth, in which case the right hon. Gentleman should be brought before the Committee of Privileges—

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. I have taken advice on this matter, and we must proceed in accordance with the rules of the House. I understand that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) is referring to a report which appeared in a newspaper. Will the hon. Gentleman bring the newspaper to the Table?

I am also told that the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) is not allowed to intervene today and that, in accordance with precedent, I must say that I shall consider the matter and rule upon it. In accordance with my Ruling, then there will be an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

On a point of order—

Hon. Members:

No.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. If a right hon. or hon. Member wishes to raise a point of order, the House must allow him to be heard.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

My point of order in no way concerns the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) or your Ruling thereon—[Interruption]—though right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to be proving my point. When you have ruled, will it be in order for me then to raise points of order about some of the inaccurate quotations which the hon. Member for Peterborough has made?

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Even the right hon. Member for Huyton must wait for the eventuality. I will rule, and then I will consider what is and what is not in order.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you rule, will you take into account the full report referred to by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) including the paragraph immediately following, which the hon. Gentleman omitted to quote? It says: Nothing had been more disgraceful in recent days than the behaviour of the P.M. himself who, after making unjustified reflections on the Leader of the Liberal Party was forced into a grudging but unpublished apology'.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. The Chair takes into account all the surrounding circumstances before it rules.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a slightly different point of order arising out of the submission made by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls). In the course of making his submission on privilege, the hon. Gentleman referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) in a way which compared him with the late Dr. Goebbels. Surely that is a very improper accusation to make against any hon. Member of this House and should be withdrawn before the matter is referred to the Committee of Privileges.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

I do not think that the Chair can intervene on what is, I think, a matter of taste, not of order.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

On a point of order. In view of the fact that recently you drew to my attention, quite rightly, that it was quite wrong for hon. Members to interject from a seated position, would you consider advising the whole House that it is quite wrong for any hon. Member, including any right hon. or hon. Member opposite, to interject from a seated position?

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

I am delighted to have the support of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I remind the hon. Gentleman and all other right hon. and hon. Members that example is better than precept.