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Complaint Of Privilege

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 14 March 1951

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Mr. Speaker, I desire to make a submission in regard to the matter I raised with you in the early hours this morning. The matter concerns a statement made by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby). Unfortunately I could not contact the hon. Member during the early hours. I did try for an hour to find him in the House.

At any rate, I could not contact him and I raised the point— although it did not go any further than that—and you said you would examine it this afternoon. It concerns the report of a speech which I discovered on the tape last night, and which is reported in the newspapers this morning. I will read the actual quotation from the report of the hon. Gentleman's speech recorded on the Exchange Telegraph machine at 11.19 p.m.:

"11.19 p.m. Tory plan to exhaust Labour M.P.s"

The report goes on:

"The Conservative exhaustion plan in the House of Commons against the Labour Government was outlined by Mr. Robert Boothby, Conservative M.P. tor Aberdeen, when speaking at Banstead, Surrey, tonight. He said: 'We shall harry the life out of them. We shall keep 'em up day and night. The only way to get rid of them fairly quickly is to try and wear them out. There is no other way to do it. We have just got to go cracking on. We will make it absolutely intolerable for them'."

"' We will make them sit up day and night and grind away until they get absolutely hysterical'"—

"' and say "We cannot stand any more." And this is what we are going to do for the next two or three months. Division after division. And we can do it in squads'. Mr. Boothby hurriedly left the meeting to return to the House of Commons."

This morning I notified the hon. Gentleman by letter, which I think he received.

Now, if in fact that reported speech is true, I submit that we have complete evidence of a conspiracy by the Conservative Party to abuse the processes of this House, and in my opinion it comes within the definition of contempt. Perhaps I might quote Erskine May, 15th Edition, at page 109:

"It may be stated generally that any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or"—
and this is important—
"which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as contempt even though there is no precedent for the offence."
If, on the other hand, the statement is not true and no such conspiracy exists, it is, I submit, a case of gross contempt to suggest that such a plan does exist, and to strengthen that statement I quote from Erskine May, 15th Edition, page 120, headed: