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Business Of The House (Right Hon Member For Walsall, North)

Volume 893: debated on Wednesday 11 June 1975

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The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement.

In the business of the House which I announced on 22nd May, I included for 12th June the consideration of motions on the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse).

The Government are very much aware of the strength of feeling in the House and in the country that the right hon. Gentleman is able to retain his position, privileges and salary as a Member of this House, despite what many consider to be his clear abandonment of his parliamentary duties, and as a result of the effective lack of representation in this House of the electors of Walsall, North. The right hon. Member's constituents justifiably feel extremely aggrieved.

The Government fully recognise the force of the arguments advanced by the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), whose reports are before the House. The Government note the Committee's view that the right hon. Member has had ample opportunity to return to the United Kingdom and to attend the House since he was first invited to appear before the Select Committee in January.

The Government, however, have also to take account of the fact that there are pending criminal charges against the right hon. Gentleman, including charges of forgery, theft and fraud.

The Government have been advised that to proceed with the debate at this time could be prejudicial to the conduct of any subsequent legal proceedings against the right hon. Gentleman, not because the subject matter of the debate would in any way be concerned with questions of the right hon. Gentleman's guilt or innocence of the charges, but because many of the considerations which the House will have to take into account in discussing the motion for the expulsion of the right hon. Member could be held to be prejudicial to public attitudes towards him and might be relevant to issues which would have to be taken into consideration in any proceedings against him.

The Government do not believe that it would be right for this House, as the supreme law-making body, to do anything which might in any way prejudice the treatment of any citizen before the courts.

A further consideration and an extremely important one, arose last night when the Government were informed that the right hon. Member had been moved to the psychiatric ward of Pentridge Prison, Melbourne. This must, of course, cast doubt on his mental condition, and the House will no doubt agree that this further development is decisive in considering whether or not we should debate the matter. The motions which stand in my name have accordingly been withdrawn and there will, therefore, be no debate on the right hon. Member tomorrow.

Following this decision, it has been decided that the business for tomorrow should be rearranged to allow for the completion of the remaining stages of the Social Security Pensions Bill by about 7 p.m., followed by the debate as already announced on motions on Members' interests.

Would it not have been quite intolerable that this House should seek to proceed against one of its Members in circumstances connected with alleged offences for which he had not been tried, let alone found guilty? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the decision which he has announced will be received with relief by all who have the good name of this House at heart?

Will my right hon. Friend agree that while many hon. Members in all parts of the House sympathise enormously with regard to the deteriorating condition of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse), we must also express considerable sympathy for the 71,525 constituents of Walsall, North who have already been unrepresented for seven months and who could possibly be unrepresented for a further year? Can my right hon. Friend offer any encouragement to the constituents of Walsall, North for believing that this situation will be ended as soon as possible? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that in the confrontation between this House and the right hon. Member for Walsall, North, be he lucid or not, the right hon. Member appears to be winning hands down?

The whole House would wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) for the work he has done in representing the constituents of Walsall, North. We are grateful to him for doing that. I think he will agree about the two considerations which I have mentioned. The first is that a decision this week to expel the right hon. Member would inevitably have an effect on the minds of potential jurors in any trial which may follow later this year. We cannot run the risk of prejudicing the right hon. Gentleman's chances of a fair trial. The other consideration is the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was moved to the psychiatric ward in the prison yesterday. These two considerations together are quite decisive.

Order. In view of the terms of the Lord President's statement, it would be better for the House to move on to the next business.