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Complaint Of Privilege

Volume 885: debated on Monday 3 February 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I wish to raise a matter which I submit is a breach of privilege and a contempt of the House, Mr. Speaker.

It may be that the abuse of which I complain is without precedent, but as "Erskine May" points out at page 132 of the Eighteenth Edition, a matter
"may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence."
The offence of which I seek to complain, of which I have given you the earliest possible notice, Mr. Speaker, relates to an advertisement which appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday 1st February and, I believe, in some other newspapers. Under the heading "Advertisement", it reads:

"TED HEATH IS STILL THE TORIES BEST BET …

If you agree, say so now.

Send a telegram to your M.P.,

c/o House of Commons, London, S.W.1.

Ask him to VOTE HEATH in next week's ballot.

Signed: 'Friends of Ted Heath.'"

Those final words are the only evidence of the source of the advertisement.

If we allow this kind of thing to happen it will open up the most dangerous possibilities of anonymous groupings, supplied with anonymous funds, seeking to influence Members of Parliament, for whatever purpose, in the discharge of their duties as Members. Therefore, the matter should be given careful consideration. It is a precedent which we cannot allow to pass unchallenged.

I hope that after due consideration, Mr. Speaker, you will come to the conclusion that there is a prima facie case of breach of privilege. How do we know who the people concerned are? They might be a foreign Power, a subversive organisation, the Mafia, or Heaven knows what.

It is important that if a group seeks to lobby Members of Parliament its identity should be disclosed, and the funds it is using for the purpose of its lobby should also be made known to the public.

If the hon. Gentleman is relying on something in a newspaper, he must bring a copy to the Table.

Copy of newspaper handed in.

The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that he gave me considerable notice of the matter, and I have had an opportunity to consider it.

I would hesitate to accuse an non. Member who has been a Member such a long time—indeed, for as long as I have been a Member—of anything like frivolity. I have considered the matter carefully, and have taken advice on it. I cannot give it precedence over the business of the House.