Privilege

– in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 22nd January 1986.

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Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield 3:34 pm, 22nd January 1986

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, I asked your advice on a matter relating to your authority. I asked whether you would agree to place in the Library the document "Questions of Procedure"—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Before the right hon. Member proceeds too far, may I say that I do not think he has yet received my letter on this matter.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

I have received it.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

As the right hon. Member knows, the document involves a matter of privilege. I dealt with it in the normal way. It would not be in order for the right hon. Member to refer to it.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

In that case, may I refer to what you said yesterday, Mr. Speaker? You said to me that advice was available elsewhere on the document's status and on the coverage for privilege afforded to the document and to me.

I have now sought that advice. I have decided that, in view of the restrictions listed in the document by successive Prime Ministers, which place other Members of the House who are or who have ever been Ministers, under restriction, it is in the interests of the House that all hon. Members should have access to it and that it should not be restricted to those hon. Members who now serve on the Select Committee on Treasury and Civil Service. I am therefore ready to supply a copy of the document to any hon. Member who wishes to have it. I hereby formally claim privilege both for the document and for myself in providing it to other hon. Members as a proceeding in Parliament. I have not and shall not supply copies to any person who is not a Member.

I have sought advice also on the situation that would arise if, this afternoon, the Sub-Committee decides at any stage to go into secret session during my evidence. If that occurs, I shall, for the same reason, ask leave to withdraw forthwith.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Any action that the right hon. Member takes will be entirely on his own responsibility. As the right hon. Member has raised this matter, I say to him that I have no authority to permit any private Member to place any document in the Library.

Mr. Eric S. Heller:

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was one of those who received this document, and I read it carefully. On one occasion, I was informed from Moscow that I could not appear on a television programme. I was informed also that I could not write my weekly column for the Walton Times. Incidentally, I ignored that advice. May I ask why you, Mr. Speaker, as the custodian of the interests of hon. Members, cannot ask for such a document to be brought before the House? This would enable hon. Members who could be Ministers in the future and able to obtain such documents to be acquainted with the sort of information they are expected to swallow by the Government of the time, whether they like it or not, even though those hon. Members are elected by the people. I ask you to consider your decision on this matter.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I do not need to consider my decision. The principle is that the Speaker cannot authorise the laying of any document in the Library. If he did so, the document would be under the protection of the Speaker. That is not my responsibility. Right hon. and hon. Members must do what they think fit. This is a matter for them, not me.