MR. Tony Smythe

Oral Answers to Questions – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1980.

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Photo of Mr David Ennals Mr David Ennals , Norwich North 12:00 am, 24th July 1980

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to raise a point of order after we have had the Business Statement and two other statements. Speaking in the House on 20 December 1979, the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said: When I had dealings with Mr. Tony Smythe, when I was proud to serve at the Northern Ireland Office and he was in the National Council for Civil Liberties, I had no doubt whatever that all his interests lay on the side of the Irish Republican Army."— [Official Report, 20 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 1055-56.] That statement was grossly defamatory at the time that it was made. In spite of exchanges in the House, this statement, so damaging to the personal reputation of Mr. Smythe, has never been withdrawn by the hon. Gentleman, nor has he responded to repeated challenges to repeat the statement outside the House.

I am raising this point of order on behalf of Mr. Smythe, who is unable to defend himself because the allegations were made under the protection of parliamentary privilege. Mr. Smythe's Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), is the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. The hon. Gentleman specifically and in writing has authorised me to raise this issue on be-half of his constituent.

It is not my intention to raise any of the other accusations made against Mr. Smythe and the organisation of which he is the director. I am concerned only to obtain justice and to protect the rights and clear the reputation of a man who has made a considerable contribution to human rights and liberties in Britain. I am not seeking to challenge the principle of the privilege of hon. Members.

Statements impugning the honour and integrity of an individual that have been proved by the evidence to be patently untrue are an infringement of hon. Members' vital privilege. I would no more than you, Mr. Speaker, in your ruling of 23 June, seek to take away the privilege of hon. Members. You rightly ruled, Mr. Speaker: Every hon. Member must take full… responsibility for any statement that he makes in this House."— [Official Report, 23 June 1980; Vol. 987, c. 28.] As every right hon. and hon. Member argued on 23 June, the privileges that we hold will be brought into disrepute if damaging and defamatory allegations are made against individuals that are disproved by those in a position to know and are subsequently not withdrawn openly and publicly in the House. None of us needs to be reminded of a recent example in which one of our colleagues acted in precisely that way to clear the name of an individual against whom he had made an allegation.

My purpose in raising this point of order is to ask whether the hon. Member for Wokingham, who knew, as you did, Mr. Speaker, that I proposed to raise this point of order, has sought from you an opportunity to make a personal statement of withdrawal to end this long drawn-out and unsavoury issue which has done and is doing damage to not only the individual abused but to the integrity of the House and the privileges that we claim for ourselves.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I listened with care to the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals), as I did recently when a similar application was made to me. I have received no request from anyone to make a statement, but the House will know that the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) asked this afternoon during business questions that the matter be debated next week. I have received no statement.