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Question Of Privilege

Volume 148: debated on Tuesday 8 November 1921

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Mr W John, Mp

I think it was understood yesterday, when I brought before the House a question of privilege, that it was to be raised to-day after you, Sir, had had time to look into it. Since the House met yesterday I have taken every step open to me to communicate with the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. W. John). I left a letter for him addressed at the Post Office. As there were no means of telegraphing to him, his address not being there, that was all I could do. Yesterday I read to the House a portion of a report in Monday's issue of the "Western Mail," containing the words upon which I would base a Motion to be made at the conclusion of my short speech. In addition to the direct oration there is more in the oblique oration, making it clear that what the hon. Member said referred to the character and conduct of his colleagues in the House of Commons. Of course, it does not follow, because an hon. Member is reported in the Press to have used certain words, that he has necessarily done so, but the "Western Mail" is a journal of very high reputation served by very capable officers, and I do not suppose that it is inaccurate.

On a point of Order. I should like to know whether it is in Order for an hon. Member to make a statement with regard to a charge against another hon. Member before that hon. Member has had an opportunity of denying or accepting the charge?

The proper procedure is for the Member to state to the House what his claim is on the point of privilege, and then the House will always hear the hon. Member of whose conduct com, plaint is made immediately following.

I presume that the hon. Member for West Rhondda will be here, but at any rate, without any comment, I will read the passage concerned. It is stated here that Mr. William John, Member for West Rhondda, addressing a meeting of miners on Sunday evening, said,

"I should like to take some of the Rhondda miners to witness a Debate in the House of Commons, to see the wealthy landlords coming up from their dining rooms three parts drunk. Some of them cannot stand, and some there are who have to hold on to their chairs in order to speak in the House of Commons."
There is some more that is not in inverted commas, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), when I read so far yesterday, made a short speech which was everything that the House would expect from him, for himself and the Members he represents, I do not think that there is any need for me to prolong this business or to exacerbate any feelings that may arise by reading any portion which follows. I do not believe that the accuracy of the Report will be impugned, but, if it is, I shall have something further to say on the subject. If the Report be correct, there can be no doubt. that this comes under the head—at least I submit so to the House—of a "reflection on a Member" such as has been resented on previous similar occasions as an indignity to the House itself; and that it comes under the head also of "insults to Members" which in fact are breaches of privilege such as have on former occasions been punished by censure, commitment, and confinement. Having sat in this House for more years than the hon. Member for West Rhondda has sat months, I feel sure that I am for the moment expressing the opinion of every Member when I say that it would not only be superfluous, but it would be impertinence on my part to descend to refute such charges. Nothing can be more serious to my mind than that an hon. Member should accuse his colleagues of being
"Sons of Belial flown with insolence and wine."
I will now, with your permission, Sir, take this issue of the "Western Mail" to the Table, so that the Clerk may read the passage to which I refer, after which I propose to make a Motion.

THE CLERK OF THE HOUSE (Mr. T. Lonsdale Webster) read the said passage from the "Western Mail," of 7th November, 1921, as followeth:

"I should like to take some of the Rhondda miners to witness a Debate in the House of Commons, to see the wealthy landlords coming up from their dining rooms three parts drunk. Some of them cannot stand, and some there are who have to hold on to their chairs in order to speak in the House of Commons."

I beg to move, "That the said speech is a gross libel on the Members of this House, and a grave breach of its privileges."

I have been very much surprised at the publicity which during the past few days has been given to a statement which I made or am supposed to have made on Sunday evening last. I very much regret that anything I may have said or publicly stated should create such resentment in this House, of which I am proud to be a Member. I do not wish to enter into any quarrel with the Press at all as to the accuracy of the reports of my speech, but I do ask the House to believe me when I say that, whether owing to the falsity of the report or whether owing to the faulty way in which I gave expression to my thoughts, those reports do not accurately convey what was in my mind at the time. Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I desire unhesitatingly to withdraw the statement to which reference has been made, and to offer to this House my sincere and unqualified apology.

The hon. Member for West Rhondda will now withdraw from the House while it continues its deliberations on the matter.

The hon. Member then withdrew from the House.

This House could not pass over so grave an attack upon its dignity and reputation as the hon. Gentleman is reported in the Press to have made, the moment that that report was brought to the attention of the House. It was only natural that some Member of the House should, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) has done, after due notice, have moved that that utterance constitutes a grave breach of the privileges of this House. But the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) has done what we all hoped he would do. He has unreservedly withdrawn the statements that were made, and unfeignedly expressed his regret at having made them. Under these circumstances, I venture to think we should best observe our traditional attitude and preserve our own dignity—these proceedings being noted as they will be, and that apology being noted, as it will be, on the Journals of the House—if we proceed no further in the matter. I hope my hon.

Friend, in view of the complete withdrawal and apology tendered to the House by the hon. Member, will consent to withdraw his Motion, so that we may proceed to the Orders of the Day.

I readily accept that suggestion, and beg to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion I made.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Probation, Certified Schools, And Borstal Institutions Bill

"to constitute a Probation Commission and establish provisions with regard to reformatory and industrial schools, presented by Sir JAMES AGO-GARDNER; supported by Lord Henry CavendishBentinck, Mr. Arland, Mr. Briant, Lieut.-Colonel Raw, and Mr. Aneurin Williams; to be read a Second time To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 234.]

Message From The Lords

That they have passed a Bill, intituled, "An Act to repeal Section two of the Gaming Act, 1835."[Gaming Bill [Lords.]

Gaming Bill Lords

Read the First time; to be read a Second time To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 236.]