"The Secret Society" (Parliamentary Privilege)

– in the House of Commons at 11:19 am on 30th January 1987.

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Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West 11:19 am, 30th January 1987

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I promise you that it is a genuine one. As you know, the Opposition have supported the Government's efforts to suppress possible security breaches in relation to the BBC film. You will recollect our debate the other day, but the matter seems to be descending into a farce in which the privileges of the House may be prejudiced.

I see from today's newpapers that the Government do not intend to seek an injunction against the showing of this film in Wales. We now have the anomalous position whereby, although we cannot see the film in the House, our constituents can see it outside the House. We could go to Wales to see it. It seems that the only place in Britain where the film cannot be shown is in the House of Commons.

Does that not impinge upon our privileges? In this matter, we seem to be underprivileged. In view of the constructive role that you tried to play in last week's proceedings, Mr. Speaker, can you intervene now to ensure that hon. Members' rights are preserved, in the light of what has emerged since our debate?

Several Hon. Members:

rose

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

I must repeat that it is unfair to make points of order on a private Members' day. I have to take them, but the House should bear that in mind.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This matter greatly affects our privileges—

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

Order. I did not mean the right hon. Gentleman. My remarks were directed at those Members behind him who are seeking to continue the points of order.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Did not your ruling the other day state that the injunction would apply until the Committee of Privileges had reported and the House had decided, unless the injunction was subsequently withdrawn? Therefore, would it not be appropriate for the Government to apply the injunction to the Principality, or to withdraw it from the House? May we have a statement to that effect at 2.30 this afternoon?

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

What the hon. Gentleman says is entirely correct; the matter is now in the hands of the House. We debated this exhaustively on Tuesday, in an admirable and excellent debate. The matter is now with the Committee of Privileges. What the hon. Gentleman says is correct. My direction remains until the House has debated the matter, or until the injunction is withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely it goes beyond that. You have said that the matter is in the hands of the House, but there is surely an important element of timing here. The Government have kicked for touch. The matter has gone to the Committee of Privileges, it will be discussed there and a substantial time might elapse. It then has to come back to the House for a decision. In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, may we appeal to you, as the guardian of the privileges of the House, to recognise the absurdity of the position? When I travel to Wales, as I will today, I shall he able to see the film in a place which shares the common laws of England. The Conservative party claims to be the unionist party, yet it is prepared to countenance a wholly separate position in Wales and to deny to hon. Members, surely on a wholly absurd basis, what it is prepared to allow in Cardiff, Swansea and elsewhere.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to participate in the debate on crossbows. I am one of the sponsors of the Bill and do not want to waste the time of the House, but a serious problem arises. I assume that the reason why the injunction does not extend to Wales is that it is particular to the film that Mr. Duncan Campbell has. This seems to imply that as your ruling is linked to that particular injunction, if hon. Members were able to secure the copy of the film that is in Wales it would not be covered by your ruling and we could see it in this House. Your ruling applies specifically to an injunction in respect of one copy of one film.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

I am grateful for your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I in no way challenge it. You made the point that the matter was in the hands of the House, but that is not solely the case, because it is also in the hands of the Government as a result of the ruling that you gave the other evening. As you will appreciate, it would take a considerable time for the House to reverse your decision of the other evening, whereas an administrative decision could be taken instantly by the other party in control of the matter, namely, the Government. One of the duties of the Leader of the House is to protect the rights of Back Benchers, and it would be appropriate if, before we finished our business today, the Leader of the House could come to the House and make a statement about what the Government intend to do to remedy the anomalous situation that we are in.

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

The House took a decision on Tuesday. As far as I am concerned, that is where the matter rests. If the injunction is removed, that is a completly different matter.

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

I shall hear the hon. Member, but he should bear in mind that he is prejudicing the rights of other Back Benchers.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

This time last week there was a furore about this film. Because of it, one man at the BBC has almost certainly got the sack. You, Mr. Speaker, had to come to the House to ensure that motions were debated on Tuesday about the matter. It is well known that you were not exceedingly happy about the prospect of getting into the middle of the argument. You made it clear that that was a problem for you and one that you did not relish.

All the so-called drama of last week occupied reams and reams of newspaper column inches, it was reported on television day after day and it worried you all over the weekend. Now we hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) that this great and wonderful Government have come up with an idea that excludes Wales. Why can we not have a Minister from Wales to come and tell us that he will organise, by order of the Welsh tourist board, trips to Wales to see the film? It holds out endless possibilities. This is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and if I were in your place I would be inclined to tell the Committee of Privileges to wind it up as quickly as it can.

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

Perhaps I should take a trip to Wales but I shall now call a Welsh Member, Mr. Keith Best.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am afraid that too many important points have now been raised for us to leave the matter without hearing something from the Leader of the House. Essentially, we are faced with an important shift of Government policy which has not been explained. That which the Government thought was extremely important for them to achieve only a week ago they have now publicly abandoned. There ought now to be a statement from the most appropriate Government Minister and it should be made at 2.30. I hope that the Leader of the House will make some response to this plea.