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Question Of Privilege

Volume 889: debated on Tuesday 8 April 1975

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I beg to submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Prime Minister's Written Answer yesterday on European Community membership revealed a contempt of this House and a breach of its privileges.

I am not referring to the last paragraph, which is simply the normal courtesies between Members of the same party. Nor am I referring to the Prime Minister's instructions to members of his Government to act in accordance with Government policy when they are on official business. I am referring to the first sentence of the second paragraph, which reads:
"This freedom does not extend to parliamentary proceedings and official business."— [Official Report, 7th April 1975; Vol. 889, c.351]
Official business is of no concern to us, but restricting the freedom of parliamentary proceedings is a matter for this House and not for the Government. As was pointed out earlier, on a previous occasion in 1931 no restriction was placed on right hon. and hon. Members speaking personally, even if they were Ministers, to express their own views.

It is the law of the country that Members of Parliament have not merely a right but a duty to express in this House their opinions and to be protected in ways in which they would not he outside this House. They are protected, for example, against defamation by absolute privilege.

It is the principle of the procedures of this House that a Member may come here and say what he chooses. Normally, members of the Government do not do that, but in this case they are to be allowed to do so outside this House. I cannot imagine a more complete derogation from the rights of this House than to say that its Members may speak out-side it but not in it.

In so far as the wording of which I complain refers to proceedings in this House and to the personal views of Ministers, I submit contempt of this Ho wording of which proceedings in this personal views of that it reveals a contempt of this House.