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Hon Member For Mid-Ulster

Volume 803: debated on Thursday 2 July 1970

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I have to inform the House that I have received a letter, which I will read to the House, from the Petty Sessions Office, Courthouse, Londonderry:

"Dear Sir, It is my duty to inform you that Miss Bernadette Devlin, Member of Parliament for the Mid-Ulster Constituency, was on the 22nd December, 1969, convicted by me at Londonderry Petty Sessions and orders made as set forth in the attached Certificates of Orders.
Miss Devlin appealed by way of case stated to H.M. Court of Appeal in Northern Leland and on the 22nd June, 1970, the Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal and affirmed the convictions and orders made as aforesaid.
Leave to appeal to the House of Lords was refused by the Court of Appeal on the 26th June, 1970. Warrants of commitment were issued on 26th June, 1970, for the execution of the said orders."
The letter was signed by the Resident Magistrate.

On a point of order. I have already sought your guidance on this matter, Mr. Speaker, and wish subsequently to raise a number of important constitutional points which arise from the imprisonment of the Member for Mid-Ulster. I have, however, been advised by you, Sir, that the earliest appropriate opportunity to do that will be tomorrow when I intend to make such submission seeking your guidance and also raising the question of whether a breach of Privilege arises.

Meanwhile, I would ask for information from you, Sir, as to the date of the letter which you have just read to the House, because I understand that not only is Mr. Speaker required to report such a matter to the House at the first opportunity, which you, Sir, have obviously done, but there is also a requirement on the part of those responsible for such imprisonment immediately to notify you as Speaker of the House of Commons of the imprisonment of a Member.

From the dates listed in the letter and from inquiries I made earlier in the week, it appears that there is some doubt about whether you, Sir, were advised with due dispatch of the action which had been taken. I would therefore welcome a statement from you as to whether you are satisfied that the court did act with the immediacy which it should and that no contempt of the House thereby arises.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to some of his hon. Friends for accepting my advice that we do not proceed with this matter at this stage in the opening of Parliament. The information which he asks for is this: the letter is headed:

"Petty Sessions Office, Courthouse, Londonderry",
and is dated 29th June, 1970. The hon. Gentleman may pursue the matter tomorrow.